Tag Archive: Kirk Cousins


Why Mike Shanahan Was Wrong

If you follow me on Twitter you can tell that I was pretty surprised that Mike Shanahan left Robert Griffin III in the game against the Seahawks on Sunday. He started out by leading two scoring drives, but he clearly aggravated his knee and was noticeably limping after he did. Not only that, but he was clearly not 100% before he aggravated his knee and it was obvious any time he tried to use his normally elite mobility. But after he aggravated his knee (the same knee he tore his ACL in when he was at Baylor) there was no question in my mind- RGIII needed to come out of the game.

I can understand wanting to keep him in until halftime, but at halftime if I am Mike Shanahan I would have benched RGIII and put Kirk Cousins in the game. I’m sure some will claim that hindsight is 20/20, but I was calling for this to happen in real time on Twitter, go read my timeline. I’m not saying that Cousins would have led the Redskins to a glorious victory, but I think he gave them a better chance to win than a clearly hurt RGIII.

I understand this was a huge game for Washington and really for the entire city of DC. And honestly, Shanahan would have likely caught flak either way no matter what he did. If he pulls RGIII and he loses he’s a moron, but if he keeps him in, loses, and it results in his franchise QB doing serious damage to his knee then he’s an even bigger moron. I don’t expect Shanahan to bend to the will of the fans and the media (and he shouldn’t) but that is just another reason why he shouldn’t have been afraid to take RGIII out. This team is building for the next decade, not just for this one wild card game. You have to be able to see long term, and while advancing in the playoffs is awfully important this is the exact situation you drafted Kirk Cousins for: your star quarterback is hurt, he can’t run effectively so the zone read is a glorified hand-off, and he can’t drive off of his plant leg because of the pain from his injury leading to inaccurate throws (and an interception by Earl Thomas). Put Cousins in. He knows the offense, he isn’t as mobile as RGIII but he can run the zone read and make plenty of the same throws that RGIII can make. He’s not the same, but if he was as good as RGIII he would have gone much earlier in the draft. He is a capable back-up, and this is why you drafted him- PLAY HIM!

But Shanahan didn’t play him, and there are going to be people defending his decision to not do so. One of those people is Mark Schlereth. Another is Skip Bayless. I don’t know about you, but those aren’t the kind of people I want backing up my decision making. In fact, I’d prefer the opposite. Regardless of who agrees or disagrees with Shanahan though, he left his QB in after the half instead of playing his capable rookie back-up. As the head coach, that is his decision. Some are already saying “Well I’m sure RGIII wanted to stay in the game, I agree that Shanny should have left him in if he wanted to be in.” That is irrelevant. Very rarely will an athlete, hurt or not hurt, ask to come out of a game. Everyone can remember what happened when Jay Cutler came out of the game right? He was torn apart in the media and even some players criticized him (here’s looking at you Maurice Jones-Drew). Was it fair? Maybe, maybe not, but my point is that in one of the rare instances where a player requested to be removed from the game he was torn apart for it. I personally believe that RGIII is a much better leader and honestly a more likeable person than Cutler is, and it’s not a surprise that he would want to stay in the game. And I won’t be surprised when he defends Shanahan’s decision to leave him in the game- it’s almost certainly what he wanted. He wanted to lead his team to a playoff win and he wanted to do it whether he was playing on one leg or two. I respect that, and it was alright for the first half despite the fact that he was noticeably less accurate after he was injured. However, the head coach is responsible for telling RGIII that even though he wants to play, it’s not worth the long term risk of injury, especially given how much less effectively he has been running the offense. That is why he gets paid a small fortune every year; to make tough decisions that while possibly unpopular are better for the team even if the players involved are vehemently opposed to his decision. I think Shanahan understands that, but inexplicably he still left Griffin in and we all saw the result- he got hurt.

I really hope that RGIII didn’t do any structural damage to his knee. He tore that same ACL when he was at Baylor and doing damage like that to it again would likely be very problematic. It sure looked like he did something to it though, it buckled when he planted it after that bad snap and he crumpled to the ground. He did walk off under his own power, but I have seen plenty of players with serious knee injuries walk off under their own power only to find out they did structural damage to it. It may seem encouraging, but it doesn’t guarantee he didn’t do any serious damage. We will have to wait for the result of that MRI, but regardless of what happened to his knee I believe that he should have been taken out. He couldn’t throw accurately, he was throwing with awful footwork and mechanics because he couldn’t drive off of his plant leg, and the one time he kept the ball on the zone read he literally limped for 9 yards and went out of bounds. He should have been taken out of the game.

Honestly, I am in disbelief that RGIII even played as long as he did and I have a ton of admiration for Coach Shanahan. In fact, I’m about to buy his book. But RGIII could barely jog back to the huddle. He couldn’t drive off of his plant leg. He couldn’t throw with his normal velocity or accuracy. He couldn’t run the ball effectively. He couldn’t even roll out on a bootleg. James Andrews, a man who seems to perform more surgeries on serious knee injuries than anyone ever has or will, said he was worried about RGIII playing today. They decided to play him anyway, but there were a number of times where Shanahan should have, in my opinion, asserted himself as the Head Coach of this team and taken him out. In the heat of the moment you can’t expect an athlete, especially an athlete as talented and tough as RGIII, to willingly take himself out. A leader like that will lie, cheat, beg and steal to keep himself from being taken out. RGIII did that tonight and now he got hurt. He was very professional after the game as we expected him to be, but that doesn’t make Shanahan’s decision the correct one. Here’s hoping he didn’t do any structural damage, but even if he didn’t that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have come out of the game. It would only mean that he is lucky.

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Senior Bowl Top 5 Rankings:

Quarterback:

1- Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: Weeden is a bit of a polarizing prospect but I like him. He had a pretty good week and while he isn’t NFL ready as some quarterbacks are I do think he warrants serious 3rd round consideration and some 2nd round consideration. I think he will end up in round two, but I’m not sure I would personally pick him that high. That said, even if he sits for a year or maybe two he would be 30 or 31 when he stepped into the starting line-up. That would give him a solid shot at 6-8 years of starting at the QB position. That’s not a lot of upside, but if he’s ready to play when he is inserted into the line-up I think he could help his team win games as much more than a game manager. He’s not an ideal Andrew Luck type prospect because of his age, but I think he could be ready after one year of learning on the bench.

2- Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin: Wilson was my #2 quarterback coming into the week and he remains there after watching him this week in practice. His height hurts him, we all know that, but he made a terrific point in an interview I read from him where he said that there are very few quarterbacks that are tall enough to just see over the offensive line. Most guys have to move in the pocket to find throwing lanes, and that’s something he can do. With his over the top release, strong arm, quick release and mobility I don’t think he will have a problem in the NFL despite measuring in at 5’10” 5/8. He’s got plenty of arm talent and more importantly has fantastic intangibles. Give him a year or two on the bench and I think he can be a quality NFL quarterback.

3- Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State: Cousins moves up to #3 for me after this week because I think he was pretty consistent. He doesn’t have a rocket arm, and he isn’t great in the face of pressure, but he’s got some upside and may be able to develop into a solid starter with a couple of years on the bench. I don’t think I would draft him as my quarterback of the future, but he could be someone with a Matt Moore type of career with maybe a little more of a shot at starting.

4- Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State: Lindley is still a guy I like even though he showed his typical inconsistency this week. His accuracy needs work but I think with a couple years on the bench learning from a NFL starting quarterback Lindley would have time to improve his mechanics and footwork which could help some of his accuracy issues. I’m probably in the minority on him, especially when it comes to ranking him over Nick Foles, but I like Lindley’s arm and long term development potential.

5- Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Foles is a bit of a polarizing prospect himself. He’s got quality tools thanks to his size, natural arm strength and he’s got some accuracy, but I just don’t see a 1st or 2nd round pick when I watch him. He hangs onto the ball for a long time and just doesn’t look good with pressure in his face. He’s got potential, I won’t deny that, and I’ve heard good things about his football IQ this week, but I’m still not sold on Foles.

Running Back:

1- Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: Doug Martin, or the “Muscle Hampster” as he is sometimes referred to, came into the week as my top back here and that has not changed. He’s a complete back that can run the ball between the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield and pick up pressure in pass protection. He’s ready to start in the NFL right now and while I don’t think he will be a 1st round draft pick I definitely think he should go in the 2nd round which is where I have graded him for a long time now.

2- Chris Polk, RB, Washington: Some people here were dogging Chris Polk this week but I just didn’t see it. Maybe he didn’t look like he had as much burst as some thought he did, but he is more of a powerful back than a guy that has great change of direction speed and burst. He’s still got a NFL future ahead of him though because of his ability to run the ball and catch passes out of the backfield, though he needs work on pass protection like many running backs do when they leave the college ranks.

3- Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati: Pead demonstrated the ability that I thought he would this week. He’s a complementary back, not a feature back, but he’s more than talented enough to offer you the versatility to make plays running the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield and maybe even on special teams. I’m not sure he’s got a NFL future as a punt returner, but perhaps he will as a kick returner. Regardless, Pead offers some upside as a 3rd round pick and I think he’s got a solid shot to go in that range.

4- Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: Ballard came into the week #4 on my rankings and he stayed there after this week. I’m not sure he’s a guy that will go in the top 100 picks, or maybe even in the first four rounds, but I think he will be able to stick on a NFL roster and work his way into a contributing role early in his career. He still doesn’t look great catching the ball out of the backfield, but if he wants to improve that I think he will be able to.

5- Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: Rainey has been telling people all week that he’s going to run a 4.1 in the 40 yard dash. I’m not sure I believe that, but I do expect him to get into the 4.3’s and you can see his speed when he lines up at running back and at receiver. He lined up a lot at receiver this week, probably more than he would have liked, but being able to run the ball out of the backfield and be split out to run routes will only help his stock. He’s an explosive guy that should help whatever team drafts him stretch the field vertically and horizontally on offense, plus he offers value as a return man.

FB:

1- Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin: Bradie Ewing was the best fullback coming into this week and after Chad Diehl went down with a concussion earlier this week he was really the only one left standing. He’s got draftable ability at fullback and I think he will end up being a NFL starter.

Wide Receiver:

1- TJ Graham, WR, North Carolina State: Graham definitely helped himself this week, perhaps more than any receiver here. His speed is extremely evident and he looks like he will be running in the 4.3’s in the 40 yard dash, but he also caught the ball well, created separation with his route running, and overall looked like one of the more impressive receivers here. I really liked him as a sleeper and he looked terrific in his final game at NC State, but between that and this week of productive practices he should be on everyone’s radar by now. He’s a guy that I might have a 3rd round grade on once I finish my film study on him.

2- Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas: Adams was impressive this week, but I still have some reservations about him. His hands and concentration aren’t always what you want them to be, but he’s as explosive as anyone here in Mobile this week. He’s got plenty of upside as a slot receiver and as a return man, but if he can improve his hands and concentration issues he could be an extremely dangerous player at the next level.

3- Marvin Jones, WR, California: Marvin Jones came into the week under the radar and I personally had a 5th or 6th round grade on him, but he definitely helped himself this week. I’ve seen him drop some passes on film, but his hands were consistent this week and he looked like a possible 4th rounder this week. I’ll have to go back and study him further, but he definitely has draftable ability and should be a nice #4 receiver early on in his career.

4- Gerell Robinson, WR, Arizona State: Gerell Robinson is a player I’ve seen a lot of this year because I spent a lot of time watching Brock Osweiler. He’s got upside as a receiver thanks to his size and length, plus his hands have become more reliable as the season has gone on. He came into the season as a possible undrafted free agent and now he may not make it into the 5th round, especially after a positive week this week.

5- Juron Criner, WR, Arizona: Criner’s hands were never in question, and he showed that this week, but I worry about his ability to separate at the next level. But if you can catch the ball you can stick in the NFL, so while he may not be an early pick I think he can stick on a roster. His route running wasn’t very impressive this week, but if he can get coached up for a year or two as a route runner I think he could clean up some of his sloppy footwork in his breaks. That might allow him to create more separation and be a more consistently productive receiver. Even if he never runs great routes he has shown the ability to make tough catches in traffic, so while I don’t think he has great upside as a receiver I do think he has upside and draftable ability.

Tight Ends:

1- Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri: Egnew came into the week as my top tight end and that hasn’t changed either. He’s got everything you could want in a tight end because of his size, length, athleticism and hands. He’s still got room to improve as a blocker, but his value is as a receiver without a doubt.

2- Ladarius Green, TE, Louisiana Lafayette: Green definitely showed his athleticism and potential this week. He’s not going to be ready to walk into the NFL and start I don’t think, but he’s got a lot of upside as a developmental prospect at the next level. He’s got the frame to fill out more after weighing in at 237 this week, he’s got impressive size, length and hands. He’s not a finished product, so his upside is very intriguing.

3- Deangelo Peterson, TE, LSU: Peterson is a bit underrated because LSU didn’t throw the ball consistently well while he was there. He’s got the size and athletic ability to offer some upside, but I don’t think he will get drafted very high because of his film. He’s a tough guy to project because there’s not a lot of film on him, but he has upside.

4- Brad Smelley, TE, Alabama: Smelley is a late round guy that can stick on a roster and contribute on special teams and add depth to the TE position. I’m not sure he will ever be a NFL starter, but may be able to work himself into a #2 role at some point.

5- Brian Linthicum, TE, Michigan State: Linthicum is in a similar boat to Smelley. He’s not a guy who’s got a lot of upside but I think he might be able to work himself into a #2 role at some point. He was hurt at one point during this week, I’m not sure with what, but he’s not a guy that I see being a NFL starter.

Offensive Tackles:

1- Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: Adams took control day one and never really let it up in my opinion. He showed the ability to play left tackle from the get-go which impressed me. I don’t think he has the versatility to play on the right side though because he needs to get stronger in the lower body to anchor better versus bull rushes. He won’t be much of a run blocker in a man blocking scheme, but if he can pass protect at a pretty high level he should be worth a 1st round selection come April.

2- Cordy Glenn, OT, Georgia: Cordy Glenn has plenty of upside when it comes to the NFL Draft. I think he could play both guard spots, right tackle and even left tackle in a pinch. He’s got pretty good athleticism for such a large man, though he does bend at the waist at times. He’s got plenty of potential as an offensive lineman, and pending my film study of him I think he’s got a 2nd round grade right now.

3- Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois: Allen came into the week pretty underrated but he definitely opened some eyes this week as he was able to succeed at offensive tackle and at guard in practice. I think he’s a left tackle in the NFL, but showing the versatility to play inside at guard will only help him when it comes to the NFL Draft. He’s a quality pass protector and I feel that in a zone scheme he could be an effective run blocker as well. He’s not going to get a great push in a man blocking scheme I don’t think, but if he can pass protect effectively he could find his way into the 2nd round come April. Left tackles always move up and get drafted earlier than you’d think, so don’t be surprised if Allen goes higher than most expect.

4- Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State: Sanders came into this week as one of my top offensive tackles and he definitely hurt himself this week. He has the athleticism and length to play left tackle in the NFL but he’s a year away from being a starter there. He’s got upside, but he needs to get much stronger in the lower body and it concerns me that he was not finishing blocks for the entire week this week. He was able to get into position and block effectively at times, but he didn’t finish the block and that’s concerning. If he doesn’t finish blocks in the NFL then he will give up effort sacks to guys with good motors.

5- Mitchell Schwartz, OT, California: Schwartz helped himself this week. He looked solid in pass protection, has an anchor to recover, and projects to the right side in the NFL. I don’t think he’s much more than a 4th or 5th rounder (I came into the week thinking he was more of a 5th or 6th rounder), but he’s got the potential to be a back-up RT for a year or two and then compete for a starting job if he progresses well.

Offensive Guards:

1- Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin: Zeitler came into the week as my top offensive guard here and that didn’t change. Was he perfect this week? No, definitely not. He showed some issues with speed off the ball and wasn’t perfect in pass protection either. But he’s definitely a 2nd round guard and may have pro-bowl potential down the line.

2- Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State: Osemele has plenty of upside thanks to his great size, strength and length. However, he lumbers when he moves and struggles to re-direct and change directions quickly thanks to his massive size. I think he can be a good run blocker in a man blocking scheme but he will struggle if asked to pull or block in open space. I don’t think he has the potential to play right tackle after seeing him this week, and he definitely looked better inside at guard.

3- Senio Kelemete, OG, Washington: Kelemete caught my eye thanks to his impressive first step, athleticism and he has some pop with his initial contact. However, he needs to get stronger to help him anchor versus bull rushes and to help create more of a push in the running game. He’s a great fit for a zone blocking scheme right now in my opinion, but if he wants to hold up better against bigger, stronger interior linemen then he needs to get stronger. When he doesn’t beat you initially off the ball to get position then he struggles to win 1 on 1 match-ups.

4- Tony Bergstrom, OG, Utah: Bergstrom looked like he might be able to stay outside at tackle early in the week but I think he might be better inside. I think he has the potential to play outside, but I think he might be better on the interior.

Centers:

1- Michael Brewster, C, Ohio State: Brewster didn’t have a great week in my opinion but he didn’t look bad. He’s a 2nd or 3rd round Center in my opinion that can have a long career as a starter. I don’t think he’s an elite player at the position, but he’s smart and should be comfortable starting for a long time. I don’t think he’s going to make a good offensive line great, but I think he will be a reliable player at the position for a long time.

2- Philip Blake, C, Baylor: Blake has shown the ability to play guard and center this week, and I think he’s going to go higher than many might think. He’s got an impressive anchor, he’s got pretty good length and I think he can be a NFL starter at center or guard after a year on the bench. He’s got the strength and girth you like at the point of attack for both positions, and might have slightly more upside than Brewster does at the position thanks to his size.

3- Ben Jones, C, Georgia: Jones looked like an average athlete this week and I have a 3rd or 4th round grade on him right now. He struggled to anchor this week and looks like a guy who could be a NFL starting center but I don’t think he’s going to be a good or great player at that position.

4- William Vlachos, C, Alabama: Vlachos is one of the most strangely proportioned human beings I’ve ever seen. He’s a short, squatty player with very short arms and just doesn’t look like a NFL player when you look at him from a pure measureables standpoint. He’s a fighter though and he has pretty good technique and plays with good leverage thanks in part to his lack of height, so he might end up being a starter at some point. He’s a 5th or 6th round pick in my opinion, but he might be able to have a long NFL career thanks to his football IQ and quality technique.

Thanks for reading! Defense coming soon.

–Tom

North Practice: Day 1

Quarterbacks:

No quarterback really separated himself today in my opinion, but Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) looked solid as far as arm strength and accuracy. A couple of his deep balls wobbled a bit and two of them weren’t thrown to the correct shoulder that I saw, but it’s the first day and the QB’s and WR’s have no chemistry together yet. Russell Wilson (Wisconsin) struggled a bit and threw a number of passes that were either behind his intended receiver or they were not in stride so they had to slow down. Again, it comes down to a lack of chemistry, but he had his flashes. I think Wilson has the strongest arm of the group, but it’s not a very strong-armed group of quarterbacks. Kellen Moore (Boise State) looks like he is in for a bit of a tough week. His arm strength is very average and while he threw a few nice balls today I just don’t think he has the arm to be a starter. You can overcome a lot of things with football IQ and intangibles but that lack of arm strength will limit him and any offense that chooses to make him their starter.

Running Backs:

It’s tough to evaluate running backs when they aren’t wearing pads and there’s barely any contact allowed, but I am very high on Doug Martin (Boise State) and Chris Polk (Washington) and have been for a while. Martin looked natural catching passes out of the backfield and showed quality burst whenever he had the ball in his hands. Polk did the same and I really think that is going to be a fantastic battle to see who ends up getting drafted earlier. Very lucky to be able to see both of them. Dan “Boom” Herron (Ohio State) and Isaiah Pead (Cincinnati) rounded out this group, a very talented group of running backs all who have plus burst in my opinion. I think Martin and Polk are the better backs and they have feature back written all over them. Can’t say I feel the same about Herron and Pead at this point.

Wide Receivers:

It was a pretty easy day for the receivers today, but I think the guy that stuck out most to me was TJ Graham (North Carolina State). He clearly has 4.4 speed (could run as fast as a 4.35 in my opinion) and his explosiveness and burst was on full display today. He created separation nearly every time I watched him run a route and he caught the ball cleanly every single rep I saw of him. He has the potential to be a HUGE riser this week, especially if he plays like this every day of practice. Obviously this was just one day, but this definitely showed the upside Graham has as a receiver. Don’t forget he’s also a valuable return man. Marvin Jones (California) also had a good day. He was able to beat Alfonzo Dennard a couple times in 1 on 1 drills and caught the ball cleanly every time I saw him. He’s got above average hands and he’s definitely draftable in the 5th round range, but he could help himself this week. On tape he doesn’t look like much more than a complementary receiver to me and having Keenan Allen opposite him really helped, but he’s a solid, draftable player. Marvin McNutt (Iowa) struggled to create consistent separation today and I have a feeling that may be a theme of the week. He doesn’t look natural as a route runner and while the effort is there he just doesn’t have the speed. As one scout said “He’s moving his arms and hustling, but he’s not going anywhere.” His stock has been in decline all year, and he’s looking like a receiver who is going to get graded in the 5th-7th range for sure to me.

One player I was interested to see was Brian Quick (Appalachian State) but he didn’t impress me too much today. He looked a bit leggy when he was running routes and while he looked smooth at times he had three drops today that hit him right in the hands. He has ability, and he likely had some first day jitters now that he was called up to the big leagues, but it wasn’t a great first impression. He did have a very nice catch on a deep ball from Cousins where he showed some ability to adjust to a poorly thrown ball, track it through the air and catch it cleanly. DeVier Posey (Ohio State) also had positive flashes like Quick did, but as is customary he dropped a number of balls. It was either three or four that he dropped on the day, but either way scouts definitely noticed. It’s easy to love his athleticism because he has explosiveness and burst, ran good routes in 1 on 1’s today and flashes the ability to catch the ball outside of his frame too. But too many times he lets the ball hit him right in the hands and fall incomplete. He’s got upside, but if he can’t catch the ball it’s worth nothing. I think it’s a mixture of not having great hands and having concentration issues to be honest with you, but that’s still not reassuring.

Tight Ends:

Michael Egnew (Missouri) looked like the more impressive tight end in this group, but it was really only between him and Brian Linthicum (Michigan State) because Emil Igwenagu (Massachusetts), as expected, was taking snaps as a fullback. He was at the East-West Shrine Game last week and while he didn’t really impress me, he got snaps at fullback and I expected the same to hold true this week. Egnew looked smooth running routes, caught the ball cleanly each time I saw him and I have to say I was very impressed that he was up to 251 pounds. He’s been working, and I think it will help his stock. Linthicum didn’t look bad as a receiver, but he didn’t look good. He dropped a pass or two and doesn’t look as smooth or as natural running routes as Egnew does.

Offensive Line:

Mike Adams (Ohio State) was the star of the offensive line today. He had a great showing at the weigh-in when he measured in at 6’7”, 323 pounds with just under 34 inch arms, and his good day continued at practice. He consistently used his length and athleticism to his advantage and I didn’t see him get beat once in pass protection. He did get bull-rushed a bit once, and could stand to get stronger in the lower body (one reason I worry about him if he tried to move to right tackle) but he looked like a left tackle all practice today. Mike Brewster (Ohio State) didn’t impress me as much, though I wasn’t very high on him coming into practice. He looks like a 3rd or 4th round center to me, and I question his ability to anchor when beaten initially. He’s got a solid build, but he just hasn’t lived up to the 2nd round hype that he was getting for a long time at the beginning of the season. Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State) showed some ability in the run game today using his elite combination of size, strength and length to engulf defenders and even pancake one of them in the run game. However, the play after he pancaked a defender in the run game at right tackle he got beat off the edge by a speed rush and didn’t even get his hands on the defender. I thought he might be able to stick at right tackle, and there’s still a chance of that, but he will need to do a lot better than that against speed to remain on the outside. And, as expected, Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) had a good day today. He’s not as flashy as some of the other offensive line prospects here but he is the best guard on either roster in my opinion. He may not have the insane upside of Kelechi Osemele or Cordy Glenn, but he looked good in drills today and can hold his own 1 on 1 against defensive tackles. He will rise this week.

Defensive Backs:

Unfortunately I didn’t see much of the defensive line or linebackers at all today, but I heard that Derek Wolfe (Cincinnati) looked good from Shawn Zobel (@ShawnZobel_DHQ follow him) and didn’t hear rave reviews on Alameda Ta’amu (Washington) which was not very surprising. I’ll have notes on them the rest of the week though.

Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska) didn’t have a great day as he struggled to keep up with the faster receivers. The most troubling play was when Marvin McNutt got behind him in man coverage on a deep route down the seam. He doesn’t look like he has fluid hips, and struggled to turn and run with receivers downfield today. 1st round corners should not be getting beat deep by receivers that might run a 4.6 in the 40 yard dash, and his lack of recovery speed was pretty evident on that play. I think that Dennard’s upside is highest when he is able to be physical at the line of scrimmage and when he is defending slower, bigger receivers. He frustrated Alshon Jeffrey but he couldn’t keep up with TJ Graham. I feel similarly about Leonard Johnson (Iowa State). He was good against Justin Blackmon and Marvin McNutt on film, but TJ Graham created separation despite his impressive ability to mirror routes in man coverage (at least when I saw him today). I think he might struggle with the speed demon receivers, and matches up better with possession type players. Jamell Fleming (Oklahoma) didn’t look great to me as he struggled to close quickly on curl routes a couple of times. I’ve seen him close on tape though and he’s looked good in man coverage on tape to me as well, so I expect him to have better days than he had today later on in the week.

Senior Bowl Preview:

Quarterbacks:

-Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: Weeden is my top quarterback because he has what the scouts are looking for in terms of size and arm strength. It will be interesting to see how he does with a batch of new receivers, but I like him as a prospect. Do I think he’s a 1st rounder? No, but I think he may end up in the 2nd round or at least the 3rd round barring a very problematic week for him here. His age will limit his stock, and it will definitely make him a polarizing candidate because I believe he will need a year of development before he can have significant success as a starter (meaning he would be about 30 years old by the time he was a starter). He’s got potential though and should have 6-8 years of quality quarterbacking in him if he is developed correctly, and that’s more than enough to spend a 2nd or 3rd round pick on if you need a quarterback.

-Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin: I am high on Russell Wilson, I’ll say it right now. Is he the prototypical quarterback? No, I don’t think he is. He’s going to measure in at 5’11” if not slightly under that in my opinion, and that will turn off a lot of scouts and a lot of draftniks if I had to guess. But I’ve watched this kid a lot over the last two years and I am convinced that he absolutely has a NFL arm and more than that I am convinced that he has a NFL head on his shoulders. There probably weren’t 10 quarterbacks in the entire nation this year that could have come into a completely foreign situation in Wisconsin and do anything like he did this season. Again, that’s my opinion, but I think people tend to forget just how skeptical some were before the season that he would be successful as a starter for the Badgers. I am really hoping I will be able to interview Russell to get a sense for his personality and his intellect on a one on one level, but I refuse to write him off because of his height. Plenty of people will, but I think that is a mistake. I wouldn’t bet against this kid based on what I know about him.

-Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State: I like Lindley and I think he has a chance to really impress this week. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see him at the East-West Shrine Game this week, but I am glad he has a chance to show what he can do on an even bigger stage. He has a live arm and NFL size, but his accuracy has been an issue and he can be a little erratic at times based on the tape I’ve seen of him. This week will be big for him, and while I think he will show his faults I think he will demonstrate his upside as well. He might not be this high on others’ rankings coming into the week, but hopefully he has a strong enough week to turn some heads.

-Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State: Cousins is a player that people have slept on his entire career. He’s never been big enough or fast enough or talented enough to be the outright favorite, but he has fought through it and been successful despite that. I think that speaks to some intangibles on his part, and I think he has a toughness and gutsiness to him that isn’t especially easy to find in a quarterback. However, his lack of arm strength will be a limitation at the next level and he isn’t especially poised in the face of pressure in the pocket. That doesn’t project him to be a great starter at the next level, but I think he has a long NFL career ahead of him as a back-up and a possible spot-starter.

-Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Foles is an interesting player to me. He has the physical tools to be a NFL quarterback, but I am just not a fan. There’s obviously a lot more to playing quarterback than just your physical ability and God-given tools, but I don’t know much about Foles other than what I’ve been able to see on tape. I am not high on his intangibles at this point and haven’t been overly impressed with him in the 4th quarter when I have watched him. He has a chance to change my mind this week and I have to study a lot more of his 2011 tape, but at this point I think he is an overrated prospect as a possible 1st or 2nd round pick. The 3rd or 4th round range would be more realistic because at that point you are talking about a bit of a project and at least a year or two of development, but coming into the season I had a late round grade on him.

-Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State: This isn’t meant to be a slight against Moore, but when you’re a shorter player teams are ready to write you off as a potential starter anyways, but his lack of arm strength makes it even easier. He’s got average arm strength to be fair, but his ball velocity is lacking on throws beyond 10 or 15 yards. Measuring in at 6’0” or taller is critical for his draft stock, as silly as that might sound, because unlike Russell Wilson he doesn’t have the arm strength to make up for his lack of size. He’s got the intangibles and the smarts to be a NFL quarterback based on what I have seen on film and been able to find out about him, but being smart with limited size and arm strength doesn’t exactly qualify you to be a NFL starter. It means he will stick in the NFL, which I expect him to do, but it will be in a back-up role for the most part in my opinion.

Running Backs:

-Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: I love Doug Martin. I think people mentioning him as a possible 1st rounder are a little ambitious only because the demand for RB’s usually drives running backs down in the draft not up. Martin is absolutely a complete back though and he reminds me a bit of Ray Rice (I have to credit one of my Twitter followers for making the comparison to Rice before I did). He’s going to be a productive NFL back barring injury, and I expect him to demonstrate all of his ability throughout the week. I’m excited to see him in person.

-Chris Polk, RB, Washignton: Polk is a guy that has been underrated for about two years up until a couple of months ago. A lot of people felt comfortable saying that Jake Locker had “zero” talent around him at Washington. He may not have a had an abundance of talent around him, but Polk is a very legitimate 2nd or 3rd round running back prospect and he really helped make Locker’s life easier and he certainly helped Keith Price out in his first season as a starter this year. He’s the 1B to Martin’s 1A in my book, so I expect him to have a good week as well.

-Isiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati: Pead doesn’t strike me as an every down/feature back in the NFL but I definitely think he can contribute to an offense. He’s more of a complementary back in my opinion but he has impressive burst and speed as well as pretty good hands out of the backfield. I haven’t seen him much in pass protection, but he definitely warrants 3rd round pick conversation at the RB position. Again, I don’t see feature back potential from him but he could be a helluva complementary guy if used correctly.

-Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: Ballard is a solid back who runs with good power and is a bit underrated at this point. Is he a top back? Not in my opinion, but I don’t think there’s much doubt he has the potential to contribute at the next level. I’m not sure if he is a guy who can be the feature back at this point, but he should show the ability to carry the ball effectively early on his career.

-Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: Rainey is a speed demon that has not shown the ability to consistently run through tackles and gain yards after contact. His value is in the open field and when he can find some space to run and really show off his great burst and speed. He’s not a feature back in my opinion, but he has plenty of upside as a complementary back, as a receiver out of the backfield (or possibly split out) and as a return man. He should show that off this week.

Fullbacks:

-Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin: Ewing was the starting fullback in Wisconsin’s run heavy offense and definitely has enough blocking ability to contribute in the NFL. Fullback isn’t a position with a ton of demand though, so I don’t know where his stock is at this point. He should have a strong week blocking, but I’m not sure he’s a very good receiver out of the backfield.

Wide Receivers:

-Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina: This receiver class looked extremely deep a few days ago, but after the Senior Bowl lost Michael Floyd, Nick Toon and now Kendall Wright three of the top five receivers who were supposed to be here won’t be. That means that, almost by default Dwight Jones moves up and I think he has 2nd/3rd round potential, which might make him the #1 receiver here. He’s got a lot of upside thanks to his size and athleticism but his hands are too inconsistent for my liking. Some have him in round 1, but I don’t like him enough for that.

-DeVier Posey, WR Ohio State: Posey has a lot to gain this week. He’s got NFL size and athleticism to be sure. His hands were always incredibly inconsistent at Ohio State and he figures to have a number of drops this week, but if he has the work ethic to improve his hands a bit he could really shoot up boards. He may do it anyways considering where his stock might be after serving a nearly year-long suspension.

-Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M: Fuller hurt his stock this year as he fell from a possible 1st or 2nd rounder to a 3rd or 4th rounder as of right now. He looked slow this year and that hurt his stock considerably, but if he can show better speed and consistent route running this week he could really breathe some life into his stock. I have a feeling he will look faster than most are expecting him to, so I think he could definitely help himself if he shows up with his A game this week.

-Marquis Maze, WR, Alabama: Maze is an underrated receiver in my opinion and I anticipate him turning some heads this week. He’s a bit undersized and the weigh-in will be important for him, but I think he has the hands and route running ability to create separation and stick in the NFL as a slot receiver.

-Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas: Joe Adams is a tricky player for me to project. He’s so explosive thanks to his fantastic speed and burst, and once he gets the ball in his hands he is so fun to watch because of his combination of balance, strength and physicality. He’s undersized but he doesn’t play like it, and that’s always fun to watch. But I’m not sold on him as a route runner and he has had drop issues in the past, he just doesn’t have great hands. It will be interesting to see what he weighs in at, but more than that I will be interested to see how well he catches the ball away from his body this week. He’s had trouble with that when I’ve watched him on film.

-Brian Quick, WR, Appalachian State: Quick is a guy I haven’t had a chance to see play yet and I’m very excited to get that chance this week. He’s got impressive size and should have a positive experience at the weigh-in, but I honestly can’t say too much about him as a prospect at this point. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him this week.

-T.J. Graham, WR, North Carolina State: T.J. Graham is a guy that really caught my eye as a sleeper after I saw him play in NC State’s bowl game. He had a huge game, but he was productive this season, has great speed and flashed the ability to run through arm tackles despite his size. He’s a good receiver and a good return man, and if he has a consistent week catching the ball and running routes I think he will definitely start to open some eyes and move up draft boards.

-Juron Criner, WR, Arizona: Criner is a player that a lot of people were high on coming into the year but his draft stock really dropped over the course of the season. He’s not the best receiver in the draft by any means, but he is still draftable and has some value as a prospect. I’m very anxious to see him going up against some quality competition at corner this week.

-Gerell Robinson, WR, Arizona State: Robinson is a nice addition to this game and he easily had the best season of his career as a senior this year with Brock Osweiler throwing him the ball. Robinson is the definition of a possession receiver and consistently came up with big catches over the middle or on curl routes to extend drives for Arizona State this year. I like that about him, but I question his speed and I’m not 100% sold on his route running either. He’s got upside and value though, and considering he was a possible (or maybe even probable) undrafted free agent before the season started he has really helped his draft stock this year.

-Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa: I like McNutt but from what I’ve heard he is dropping on draft boards around the league, and it’s not super tough to see why. He’s solid in all aspects, but doesn’t do anything spectacularly well. Not only that, but he showed a lack of speed and physicality this year and that has to concern scouts. He’s a late round pick right now as far as I can tell, so this week is huge for him because he may be able to breathe a little life into his stock if he plays well. But if he doesn’t he might drive himself close to the 7th round/undrafted free agent conversation. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I can’t rule it out if he struggles.

Tight Ends:

-Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri: I really like Egnew and he is definitely the top tight end here in my opinion. He’s got great size and he has drawn comparisons to Jimmy Graham which I think are fairly legitimate due to their combination of size, athleticism and potential, but Egnew is obviously more polished as a receiver than Graham was when he came out. Egnew doesn’t have much experience blocking though which might hold him back at times this week, but if he is drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round range whatever team picks him will end up being very happy with him once he gets to camp.

-Ladarius Green, TE, Louisiana Lafayette: Green is a talented tight end that looks very skinny on film and due to his athleticism honestly looks a little like a very tall, skinny receiver when you watch him. I haven’t seen much from him as a blocker at all, so this week could expose that for him a little bit, but he’s a natural receiver with significant upside. He should be in the 3rd round conversation this year, and I think that is very deserving.

-Deangelo Peterson, TE, LSU: Peterson is someone I thought could really improve his stock as a sleeper this season but thanks to Jordan Jefferson and LSU’s pathetic excuse for a passing game that never materialized. He’s got the size and athleticism as well as solid hands to be a productive receiving tight end but he never really got a chance to at LSU. This week could be HUGE for him for that exact reason because he will finally be able to show what he can do when he is consistently involved during this week of practices.

-Brad Smelley, TE, Alabama: Smelley is a fun guy to watch because he doesn’t look like he’d be a very good tight end but he makes plays despite that. He might offer more as a blocker than any of the three players I have mentioned previously, and he’s one of those glue guys that I think every roster needs. He’s not flashy, but he’s versatile and strikes me as a hard-working guy that will find a way to stick on a NFL roster whether he is drafted in the late rounds or not.

-Brian Linthicum, TE, Michigan State: Linthicum’s value is as a blocker and I’m not sure he has starting tight end upside in the NFL. I just don’t see the route running and athleticism to threaten down the seam, and the tight end position has increasingly become an integral part of the passing game. Think about it: A significant number of teams that ended up making the playoffs this year had an impressive target at tight end, and even though he might be underrated Jake Ballard has been huge for the Giants this year and we don’t need to talk about how good Gronkowski and Hernandez are for the Patriots. Linthicum should get drafted late, but I don’t think it will be for his receiving ability.

Offensive Line:

-Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State: I am high on Sanders and I have been since he was a junior. When I was scouting Christian Ponder I openly wondered if he had what it took to slide to left tackle but didn’t think he’d ever get a chance to show it in college. Little did I know that Datko would get injured and Sanders would take full advantage by doing a good job as E.J. Manuel’s blind-side protector. He’s improved his stock a lot this year and with one more good week he could lock himself up as a 1st rounder, and I expect that to happen.

-Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin: Zeitler has been underrated for over a year and he is finally starting to get the love that he deserves as a guard. I think he might be the top offensive guard prospect even though he’s not a behemoth like Osemele or Cordy Glenn. He’s very fundamentally sound and has starting experience in a great rushing attack at Wisconsin. He should be a riser this week and should end up in the 2nd/3rd round range come draft day. He has a 10-12 year career as a starting guard ahead of him, and will be a good value in that range.

-Kelechi Osemele, OG, Iowa State: Osemele is a guy I really like. He is dominant once he gets his hands on you and I love watching that type of play from offensive linemen. He’s extremely large and strong, but he won’t be able to stick at left tackle in my opinion. It will be interesting to see if he gets a shot to play right tackle at all this week because I think he has a chance to stick there in the NFL, but even if he doesn’t look good there I think he will be a high draft pick as a guard.

-Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: Adams is one of the well-known participants in Ohio State’s tattoo scandal from this past season but he is a legitimate pro prospect at offensive tackle. I’m not sure I love him at either tackle position because I think he struggles with speed a little too much to stick at left tackle at the next level but he’s not exactly a force in the running game either and might struggle to get a good enough push to be a quality run-blocking right tackle. Regardless, he clearly has talent and should impress at the weigh-in as long as he is in shape. He’s got upside and should be an early 2nd round pick, but may sneak into the late 1st round if there is a team that really needs a tackle picking late.

-Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia: Glenn could try and stick at right tackle much like Osemele this week but I don’t know if that his ideal fit. He’s tough for me to project right now, but he should be fine inside at guard. He’s a HUGE guy but he worries me with his waist bending and isn’t nearly as dominant in the run game as his size would make you think he would be. This week will be big for him because he will need to show up in shape and hopefully ease some concerns that I and others have about him.

-Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois: Jeff Allen is an underrated offensive tackle prospect that I am really glad got an invitation to this game. Every time I’ve watched him he has looked solid and I can’t recall a time off the top of my head that I saw him get beat badly. Obviously that isn’t exact, but my point is that Allen looked good consistently this year for the Illini and warranted an East-West Shrine Game invite but apparently didn’t get one, so I’m glad he is here. He can play left tackle in the NFL in my opinion and guys with that ability don’t stay under the radar for too long, so I don’t expect Allen to last long under the radar this week and he could end up being the talk of the Senior Bowl if he plays like I think he could.

-Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State: I’m actually not a big fan of Brewster, but I think he warrants consideration in the 3rd or 4th round. He has a chance to show me something this week though. But at this point I wouldn’t pick him in the 2nd round, I just don’t see top center ability from him despite his starting experience at an elite program at Ohio State.

-Ben Jones, C, Georgia: I’m not hugely high on Ben Jones either, but I think I like him a bit more than I like Brewster right now. It will be interesting to compare and contrast the two this week because I think Brewster is the better athlete, but Jones has always impressed me a bit more when I watch Georgia.

Sorry for the long wait! The defense is on the way!

–Tom

1- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: Grade: #1 overall pick
2- Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal: Grade: Top 5-10 overall pick
3- Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor: Grade: Top 15 overall pick
4- Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Grade: Late 1st/Early 2nd
5- Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: Grade: 2nd round
6- Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin: Grade: 3rd round
7- Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona State: Grade: 3rd round
8- Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: Grade: 3rd/4th round
9- Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Grade: 3rd/4th round
10- B.J. Coleman, QB, Chattanooga: Grade: 4th round
11- Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego State: Grade: 4th/5th round
12- Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State: Grade: 5th round
13- Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State: Grade: 5th round
14- Nick Foles, QB, Arizona: Grade: 5th/6th round
15- Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois: Grade: 5th/6th round
16- John Brantley, QB, Florida: Grade: 6th round
17- Matt Scott, QB, Arizona: Grade: 6th round/7th round
18- Patrick Witt, QB, Yale: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
19- Case Keenum, QB, Houston: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
20- Dominique Davis, QB, East Carolina: Grade: UDFA
21- G.J. Kinne, QB, Tulsa: Grade: UDFA
22- Aaron Corp, QB, Richmond: Grade: UDFA
23- Austin Davis, QB, Southern Mississippi: Grade: UDFA
24- Jarrett Lee, QB, LSU: Grade: UDFA
25- Jordan Jefferson, QB, LSU: Grade: UDFA

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

Kirk Cousins and the Michigan State Spartans were the ones celebrating at the end of this thrilling contest between two Big-10 championship contenders.

When I saw the schedule for this 2011 season I pointed this game out to every one of my friends who likes the Badgers and said “This is going to be a critical game not only for the Badgers’ season, but for the entire Big-10 conference.” After Michigan State lost to Notre Dame it didn’t seem like my prediction would come true, but boy did it ever prove to be correct. This game had immense ramifications not only for undefeated Wisconsin and one loss Michigan State, but for the rest of the teams in each division of the conference that are trying to catch both teams for a shot at the Big-10 title game.

I will readily admit that I missed the entire first half of this game. I was on my way back from an away game that my college’s football team lost (63-41, it was quite a shoot-out) and started watching instantly once I got back. I got to see Kirk Cousins and Le’Evon Bell drive down the field for a huge touchdown to put Michigan State up 31-17. I thought Wisconsin was toast at that point, especially because of how much trouble they were having slowing down Michigan State’s running game, plus they were struggling to move the ball effectively on offense. But Wisconsin’s defense made three great stops in a row and kept Wisconsin in the game, and Russell Wilson proved that he is worthy of a lot of the praise that he receives nationally by leading two touchdown drives in the last 10 minutes of the 4th quarter to tie the game at 31. On the game tying drive he was 4/4 with a huge 3rd down conversion, a fantastic throw on an extended play to Nick Toon, and then bought more time outside of the pocket, drew a defender in as he rolled to the sideline and dropped the ball off right over him to Montee Ball for an easy score.

Some of my close friends will remember me questioning how good of a coach Bret Bielema really is when we were freshmen and sophomores. Calling a timeout with 30 seconds left instead of playing for overtime didn't really change my mind.

This is where things got crazy.

Michigan State got the ball back and Cousins did not start strong. He checked down for three yards on his first pass, then short-armed a throw to the near sideline on a curl at the marker. 3rd and 7, and he threw a dart underneath to convert. Michigan State continued to try to move the ball, but couldn’t get significant chunks of yardage. With 30 seconds left, they were content to let the clock run out and take the game to overtime. But to my disbelief Bret Bielema called his second timeout of the half and stopped the clock, foolishly hoping to get the ball back to Russell Wilson and his suddenly potent offense. But with the ball around the 40 yard line, even if the Badgers had stopped the Spartans at that point they would have punted it and at best the Badgers could have hoped for the ball on the 30 yard line with 15 seconds or possibly less remaining. Not much time even with a timeout and Russell Wilson’s strong arm.

But Bilema decided to do it anyways, and Michigan State managed to convert and the game seemed to be slipping away from Wisconsin. But with 10 seconds left the Spartans found themselves outside of field goal range with only one timeout left. They snapped the ball and Cousins started scanning the field but the clock never started. In fact, the clock didn’t start running until after the play had nearly concluded and it continued to run after the play was over (all the way down to four seconds). Suffice it to say, in all the years I have been watching football I have never seen anything quite like that, and no one in the stadium seemed to notice nor did they seem to care. You’d think Michigan State would be interested in seeing if more time should have been allotted for that final play, but apparently not.

Ohio State and Michigan were both watching this game intently. Ohio State started slow, but is gaining momentum. Michigan has had a terrific start to the year, but needs to catch Michigan State.

Then the craziest thing of all happened. After the timeout, Michigan State lined up with trips on the right side of the formation, Cousins rolled out to his right side to buy time and lobbed up a hail mary. Jared Abbrederis and a number of other players were down waiting for the ball near the end zone and Abbrederis jumped to try to catch it or knock it down but he didn’t time it right. The ball bounced off of a Michigan State receiver in the end zone and Keith Nichol, a former quarterback who transitioned to wide receiver after losing the starting job to Cousins, managed to catch it on the one yard line. He then fought tooth and nail to BARELY claw the ball over the goal line for a touchdown. Initially it was ruled that he was down on the one yard line, but when looking at the replays of the play it was clear that the ball crossed the plane of the end zone (even if it barely crossed it).

So, with that, the Spartans beat the Badgers for the second year in a row during a critical portion of the season. This doesn’t dramatically hurt the Badgers’ bid to ultimately become Big-10 champions because Michigan State and Wisconsin are in separate divisions, but it does all but dash Wisconsin’s chances at the BCS National Championship. Ohio State is looming after coming off of a quality win over then-ranked Illinois. Wisconsin travels to Columbus next, and it is imperative that they win this game to keep Ohio State from roaring back in the second half of the season. Michigan State maintained their lead in the opposite division ahead of Michigan, and if they win out they will be in the Big-10 Championship Game. Wisconsin is in the same boat, and I for one hope both win out so that we can see a rematch of this game. It probably won’t be as exciting or as unpredictable as this one was, but it would likely be a great game.

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.

Saturday Games to Watch:

Saturday:
-West Virginia-Maryland:
I am excited to watch this game because there are a couple intriguing prospects (notably Bruce Irvin for West Virginia) that I’d like to get a look at, plus I think Danny O’Brien has it in him to potentially pull an upset. I haven’t watched West Virginia at all to get a sense for how they are doing this year, but I was incredibly impressed with O’Brien against Miami. He’s got a lot of upside and I expect him to play well today if his OL can keep him upright. Geno Smith is a quality QB too though, he just doesn’t project to the NFL as well as I think O’Brien does. I’m excited to see how this game plays out, and if my hunch is correct it could go down to the wire.

-Tennessee-Florida:
I am very excited to see this game because I think Tennessee can pull off the upset. It’s easy to look at this game and say “Oh, the 16th best team in the country against an unranked team? I’ll take Florida” but Tennessee is no slouch and if they can protect Tyler Bray he can carve up very talented defenses (see the Tennessee-UNC bowl game from last year. Might not be an “SEC” caliber defense, but still very talent laden). I want to see how John Brantley does as well, plus Florida always has talented players on defense that I’d like to see. Malik Jackson, a DE on Tennessee, was a player on my list of potential break-out players so I would like to see how he plays.

-Michigan State-Notre Dame:
I still can’t stop laughing at people who keeps saying “Notre Dame is a good team and I really like their squad” when they have started 0-2 and proved that their preseason top 25 ranking was completely unjustified, at least in my opinion. While they played a good game against Michigan, the Wolverines are not on the same level as the Spartans are. I have a hard time believing Notre Dame will be able to slow down their running game and Kirk Cousins is one of the best senior quarterbacks in the country. I think Notre Dame has a chance to give them a run for their money, but I don’t think they have it in them to pull off the upset.

-Virginia-North Carolina
Both are 2-0 this season and North Carolina passed their first test beating Rutgers in a close game last weekend. I don’t have very high hopes for them with the loss of Butch Davis and a new, young QB in Bryn Rynner (though I do like him). This is a big game for them though and if they can pull it off it would be huge for them to start out 3-0 in spite of all the turmoil the program has been through the last two years.

-Arizona State-Illinois
Arizona State dazzled everyone who watched the Thursday Night game about a week or so ago when they upset Missouri on national television in an overtime game. Brock Osweiler stole the show as far as I’m concerned as he was incredibly impressive and played an extremely efficient and effective game for ASU. He demonstrated a very strong arm, was placing the ball very well, and made only two throws that I identified as poor decisions or bad throws. Illinois is on the upswing in my opinion with Nathan Scheelhaase returning for his second season as a starter. I think Arizona State has the upper hand in this one, but it should be a pretty good game since Illinois is at home.

-Ohio State-Miami
This is a tough game for me to call. I actually trust Jacory Harris more than I trust any of Ohio State’s QB’s, but that isn’t saying much considering the fact that I think Stephen Morris should start for the ‘Canes. Regardless, Miami has an insane level of talent (especially on defense) even with some of their suspensions that have rocked the program. Ohio State is very talented as well, but I think they have demonstrated that they are not an elite or even a very good team by any means in their first two games. Miami can win this game, it’s just a question of who wins the turnover battle in my opinion. If Harris avoids interceptions and moves Miami down the field methodically with a few big plays, Miami has a great shot at winning. If Ohio State can get a few downfield plays and avoid turnovers, plus create them on the defensive side of the ball, they could win this game. It will be interesting to see which way it goes, but there’s a part of me that wants to pick Miami…

-Oklahoma-Florida State
This game is an extremely tough one for me to call. It’s almost impossible to bet against Oklahoma but Florida State is a very talented team. I like what E.J. Manuel brings to the table a lot, and while I like Landry Jones I don’t think he is a 1st round QB because of his issues dealing with interior pressure and because of his propensity for interceptions last season. This is going to be a critical litmus test for both programs as Oklahoma has been taking flak lately for not being able to win big games and Florida State is trying to prove that the “old” Florida State that used to battle for conference supremacy with Miami is back. It’s hard to bet against Oklahoma, but I am hoping for a great game unlike the match up last year in Norman where Oklahoma blew the doors off FSU.

-Stanford-Arizona
This might not seem like that big of a game, but Arizona has a tendency to pull off upsets and while I don’t think Nick Foles is anything more than a mid-round NFL QB prospect he can definitely sling it, especially in Arizona’s offense. He has been very efficient to start the season and while Stanford is clearly the better team they should try to avoid getting into a shootout with Arizona, because that’s the kind of game they want to play. I expect Stanford to win, but I also expect Arizona to give them a bit of a scare during the course of this game.

Thanks for reading and enjoy all the games today! There should be some exciting ones as usual.

–Tom