Tag Archive: Kyle Fuller


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

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

Today I am previewing the Virginia Tech Hokies. I’m not going to lie, I expect the Hokies to win the ACC and finish in the top 5 this season, they are loaded with talent even if some of it (particularly at running back, along the offensive line and safety) is relatively unproven. Logan Thomas is poised for a huge second season as a starter and he is on my Heisman short list right now, partially thanks to the fact that, while unproven, I trust the group he has blocking for him and he has three senior receivers with significant playing experience returning this year. He will have weapons to throw to, and if Michael Holmes or J.C. Coleman step up at running back it will be business as usual for the Hokie offense. The offense might not be elite, but I think it will be good and potentially even explosive.

The real strength of the Hokies is their defense, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Their defensive line is one of the best in the country, and is headlined by James Gayle and J.R. Collins, two dynamic and explosive pass rushers. Bruce Taylor anchors the defense at middle linebacker, and as usual the Hokies have plenty of playmakers in the secondary. They are a little short on experience at safety, but cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum should be very good. The defensive line and the intense pressure they will apply on quarterbacks with just a four man rush will make for plenty of potential turnovers, and Bud Foster’s brilliant, aggressive scheme calls for lots of pressure from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs which will only turn up the heat even more. This is going to be one of the best defenses in the country, and it all starts up front. And with that, here are the prospects to keep an eye on:

Logan Thomas is on my short list for the Heisman this year, and I think he is ready to take a huge step forward as a quarterback. Photo Credit: MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times

Logan Thomas, QB*- Thomas enters his junior season and his second season as a starter with very high expectations. He had a great first season as a starter passing for 3,013 yards, 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 59.8% of his 391 attempts. Despite his 6’6”, 262 pound frame Thomas is very athletic and was actually recruited as a tight end out of high school due to his size, bulk and athletic ability. That means he’s a threat to run, particularly on the zone read, and while he regularly handed off to David Wilson on those plays he kept it for a few timely and memorable touchdown runs right up the middle of the defense, particularly against Miami. On the season he ran for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he will be depended on for even more production in 2012. The offense lost David Wilson, the reigning ACC player of the year, Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale to the NFL but luckily for Thomas they have three senior receivers ready to fill the void and they all have significant playing experience. Thomas was brought along fairly slowly last year, but his growth was noticeable week to week and with all that experience as well as a full offseason on top of it I expect a special season out of him this year. I will have a full scouting report up on Thomas before the season starts, but his combination of size, arm strength and athleticism is rare enough to make him a potential top 5 pick if he progressed as I expect him to this year and decided to leave a year early. Many will make comparisons to Cam Newton, but as of right now the more accurate comparison is Josh Freeman in my opinion. But if he shows the uncanny ability to will his team to not only a high caliber bowl game but a national championship he will naturally draw even more comparisons to Newton than he does already.

Marcus Davis, WR- Davis is a WR I like quite a bit, he’s one of the most underrated receivers in the country, and I think he’s going to be the top target for Thomas this season. When I first saw Davis in the slot two years ago I thought he was a tight end he is so big, but he is a WR and a big one at that; he’s listed at 6’4”, 228 pounds and he looks like a guy who could run a 4.5 40 yard dash or faster. Last year he had 30 receptions, 510 yards and 5 touchdowns but I expect him to exceed that easily in 2012. He has speed, but at his height he is lethal on 50/50 balls and shows a lot of ability to adjust to the ball in the air, high point it and come down with it even in traffic. He adjusts to the ball well and seems to have pretty good body control, not to mention long arms and reliable hands. He catches the ball well outside of his frame and even if he isn’t asked to threaten defenses vertically at the next level his combination of size, athleticism and hands will make him a reliable contributor, not to mention the fact that he gives good effort as a blocker and due to his size and strength is quite effective at it. I’m not sure what his upside is just yet, but I am a big fan of Davis without a doubt. Keep an eye on him.

DJ Coles, WR- Coles is another wide receiver I like, and he’s another big receiver for Thomas to throw to. He’s listed at 6’3”, 216 pounds and much like Davis he has impressed me with his hands, his ability to track the ball in the air and make tough catches look easy. He has reliable hands as well, and actually returns with the most receptions of any Hokie receiver with 36. He had 480 yards and 3 touchdowns on those receptions, and I think he is poised to surpass those numbers easily this year assuming he stays healthy. He had surgery to repair his PCL in January and is still recovering, but he claims he will be ready for week one. I hope he is, because he should be a key cog in Virginia Tech’s passing offense this year.

Dyrell Roberts, WR- A couple years ago Roberts was considered the most dynamic receiver the Hokies had to offer. I preferred Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale, and eventually they became the top two receivers as Roberts’ bouts with concentration lapses moved him down the depth chart. Last season he only had three receptions for 45 yards before suffering a season ending injury. He’s back for another shot at it again this year, and the 6’2” 188 pounder may actually play a lot in the slot thanks to the two large receivers above him on the depth chart. Roberts has plenty of speed, I think he’s a sub-4.5 guy, but his hands are inconsistent and that always bothered me. If he has improved his concentration and his hands then he could be in for a big year, but I don’t think he will outproduce Davis or Coles.

Nick Becton, OT- Becton is a senior who played over 450 snaps last season and played in all 14 games, but he wasn’t an every down starter and will likely be starting his first full season this year. He is charged with protecting Logan Thomas’ blind side and if the 6’6”, 326 pound left tackle can keep Thomas upright he is going to garner plenty of attention from scouts. He’s a relative unknown right now, and I’m not that familiar with his game outside of the fact that he is very strong, has long arms and plenty of potential. He almost became a starter in 2010 but because his turf toe injury took longer to heal than expected Andrew Lanier took hold of the starting role and left Becton in a reserve role. But Becton reportedly outplayed Lanier down the stretch last season and while he doesn’t return with 14 games as a starter he played in all 14 and played a considerable amount. Early in his career he was apparently considered to be playing “too nice” without enough aggressiveness, but the other book-end tackle for the Hokies, Vince Painter, said that last year Becton “started playing like somebody was stealing his car.” I love aggressiveness and nastiness in offensive linemen, and if Becton has discovered that in himself he could be quite the sleeper at the left tackle position. I am very intrigued by his upside, and I am looking forward to seeing his lateral agility and kick slide, because right now he sounds like he could be a top 100 pick at left tackle if he has a consistent season this year.

Vince Painter, OT- Painter, much like Becton, has been waiting for his shot to start for a long time and now the fifth year senior is finally getting his shot. The 6’5”, 304 pound tackle is considered a physical freak, having been timed at 4.74 in the 40 yard dash earlier in his career. However, he never earned much playing time and his flashy tools were never utilized. Now he has his chance to show what he can do this year, and while I’m not as excited about his potential as Becton he could surprise people with his play this season. I know I’m rooting for him, he’s waited a long time for his shot at the starting lineup.

Brent Benedict, OG**- Benedict is a redshirt sophomore I believe, but he’s got a lot of potential. He originally went to Georgia out of high school but according to this article a knee injury he sustained during his senior year of high school carried into his freshman season at Georgia, and apparently he wasn’t happy with how the training staff helped him rehab his injury. He sat out last year, and is now poised to start at right guard this season. Benedict has impressive size at 6’5”, 311 pounds and I think he has plenty of potential as a drive blocker, but I don’t know much about him in pass protection. He’s a relative unknown to everyone outside of the Hokie program, so I am very interested to see how he looks in his first season as a starter. I think he has a lot of potential if he can stay healthy.

Andrew Miller, C*- Miller is a 6’4, 300 pound center and he will anchor the offensive line as the only returning starter with any, technically, starting experience. Miller has been named to the Rimington Watch List and I am excited to see him play more this season. He’s a tough player, he’s poised to become the leader of the offensive line, and he plays with nastiness which as I have mentioned a million times I really like in offensive linemen. I am very anxious to see how he develops in his second season as a starter because I think he has plenty of draftable upside as a center.

James Gayle has 1st round pick written all over him and he is just scratching the surface of his potential. He spent the offseason working to improve his hand usage and master the little things you need to learn to be a complete defensive end, and it should result in a 10+ sack season for him in 2012.

James Gayle, DE*- James Gayle is probably my favorite player on the Hokies’ roster, but that might have something to do with him growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and agreeing to do this interview with me earlier this summer. He’s a great kid, and if you haven’t read that interview you should. Gayle is a physical freak that has been hand timed in the 4.4’s despite weighing about 258 pounds at the time according to James. He claims he got his speed from his All-Big Ten running back father, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that. James is an explosive athlete that is still learning how to play the position despite leading the team in sacks with 7 last season (and he missed 3 games last year!). Gayle is just scratching the surface of his massive potential, and I think he is ready for a 10+ sack season this year for the Hokies. He is going to have such a strong start to the season in my opinion that I think he’s going to start demanding double teams or at least extra help, which is going to make the rest of his defensive line and defense that much more dangerous.

J.R. Collins, DE*- Collins is another one of my favorite Hokies and I think he and Gayle are one of the best, if not the best, defensive end tandems in the entire country. Gayle spoke very highly of Collins when I spoke with him and Collins is a kid who might be a little undersized at 6’2”, 252 pounds but he is lightning quick, fast and has a relentless motor as James will attest to. Collins had 6 sacks last season, and I think he and Gayle may combine for over 20 this year, I’m dead serious. Collins doesn’t have the height and frame that James does, but I still love his upside as a pass rusher.

Antoine Hopkins, DT- Antoine and his brother are flying WAY under the radar thanks to Gayle, Collins, Bruce Taylor, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum but the Hopkins brothers are not going to be overlooked much longer. Antoine is listed at 6’1”, 318, but he is squatty, powerful and pretty quick for his size. He had 4.5 TFL and 2 sacks as a sophomore but missed over half of the season last year because of injury. Hopefully he is back to 100% by now. If he is, Virginia Tech could have a defensive line on par with the best in the country, even LSU.

Derrick Hopkins, DT*- Derrick is Antoine’s little brother but he is pretty big in his own right. Like his brother he doesn’t have ideal height, being listed at 6’0” even, but weighs 305 pounds and is a squatty defensive tackle. He wins leverage battles naturally because of his height and when he gets into your pads he can use his strength to walk you into the backfield, which helped him produce 51 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks and a pass break-up as a sophomore. Now a junior with an entire 14 games of starting experience under his belt he is the fourth cog on a defensive line that should be able to generate pressure even without any of Bud Foster’s brilliant scheming.

Bruce Taylor, MLB- Taylor is one of the elder statesmen of the defense, returning for his senior season with 23 career starts. He would have more had he not missed time last season with a foot injury, but regardless he is still a quality middle linebacker prospect thanks to his size and productivity. He is listed at 6’2”, 253 pounds and despite missing 6 games last season he had 53 tackles, 2 TFL and 5 sacks. The year before as a sophomore he was even more productive, totaling 91 tackles, 9.5 TFL and 6 sacks as well as four pass break-ups. I’ve never been blown away by him in pass coverage, but I need to see more of him before I come to any conclusions. Right now I have a 3rd or 4th round grade on him, and I’m excited to see what he can do with a full season of healthy football.

Tariq Edwards, OLB*- I honestly haven’t seen much of Edwards but I want to see more of him. He’s only a junior this season, but last year as a sophomore he had a great season totaling 71 tackles, 8 TFL and 3.5 sacks as well as 2 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. The 6’2”, 232 pound linebacker is an impressive player, but he is coming off a surgery to remove a screw from the rod that he had surgically implanted in his leg. The hope is that it will alleviate some pain he has been having, but obviously that is a situation to keep an eye on. Hopefully he comes back healthy and has another big season.

Antone Exum, CB*- Exum is a player that James specifically told me to look out for, but he’s hard to ignore thanks to his 6’0”, 219 pound listed size especially now that he is at corner. James told me he runs about a 4.35 despite being 220 pounds which is extremely impressive even if it is hand-timed, and he is obviously quite the athlete. He played free safety last year and led the team in tackles with 89, had 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 10 pass break-ups and an interception. He’s a playmaker and I can’t wait to see how he does as a corner, but even if he isn’t a great fit there I think he projects very well to the safety position at the next level.

Kyle Fuller, CB*- Fuller is yet another playmaker on this defense and while he isn’t quite as filled out as Exum he’s still pretty big for a corner. He’s listed at 6’0”, 188 pounds and I believe he has legit sub 4.5 speed. Plus, like James said, he plays even bigger than he is and loves to hit. That helped him gather 65 tackles, 10 TFL (10 tackles for loss for a corner is out of this world), 4.5 sacks, 7 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a sophomore. I’m expecting him to take an even bigger step forward as a junior, and with all the talent VT has in the front 7 there are going to be plenty of poor throws, decisions and opportunities for turnovers for this secondary and I expect Fuller to take advantage of them.

James Gayle is one of the best defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker prospects in the country, but somehow he seems to be flying under the radar. That won’t last long, as he is primed and ready for a double digit sack season as a junior.

Tom: First of all James, thank you for your time, I really appreciate the chance to talk with you more in depth and I know you’re busy.

Tom: What was your favorite thing about playing for Virginia Tech last season?

James: Probably the fans, just the Virginia Tech atmosphere and playing at Lane Stadium. I’d rather play in our stadium than anywhere else in the country.

Tom: You’ve been productive both seasons you’ve been at Virginia Tech even though last year was your first full season as a starter, do you expect an even more significant break-out year this season?

James: Definitely. I think the thing that hurt me last year was my injury, I missed 3 games and I still led the team in sacks. I’m healthy now though.

Tom: What is your accurate height, weight, and 40 yard dash time?

James: 6’4”, right now I weigh about 266 or 267 and the last time I ran I ran a 4.45 40 yard dash time, but I think I only weighed 257 or 258 at that point.

Tom: You “only” weighed 257 or 258 pounds and you ran in the 4.4’s, Josh Gordon just ran a 4.53 in the 40 yard dash at his pro-day and got drafted in the 2nd round of the supplemental draft and he weighs 40 pounds less than you!

James: Well I’ve always been fast though, even when I was in high school I was running in the 4.4’s but I guess I never got slower since all I’ve gained since coming to Virginia Tech is muscle.

Tom: Do you have any statistical goals for yourself or the team?

James: For the team I just want to be the #1 defense in the nation, or at least top 5. For myself I just want to have a better season than I did last year and continue to improve. I think if I stay healthy I’ll be better than I was last year and put myself in a good position.

Tom: What was it like watching Logan Thomas progress and grow as the season went on last year?

James: It was great. It was great watching him get acclimated to defenses but I think it was the Miami game where he really showed everyone what he could do.

Tom: Did he look even better in the spring?

James: You can tell he’s more comfortable and I think he’s getting better every day.

Tom: Everyone just kind of assumed he was going to play tight end when he was coming out of high school and now he’s one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation, it’s crazy.

James: I knew he was going to play quarterback because I played in an all-star game with him in high school, haha.

Tom: Well then you knew something I didn’t! Now did your defensive coaches mention anything to you about things you were doing well during spring ball?

James: Yeah they said I’m starting to get the little things down like my technique and my angles. I feel like I did an overall better job of that in the spring than I did in the past.

Tom: What kind of technique stuff did they specifically say you were improving on?

James: Just when I’m pass rushing taking the right angles. I usually just get by with my speed but that’s not going to work with every tackle so I’m just trying to get better with my hands and trying to take better angles to get to the quarterback.

Tom: That’s great to hear, that’s what you need to be a complete defensive end. You’re going to be scary when you get that technique down James.

James: Haha, well I’ve been working on it all summer.

Tom: What do you think your greatest strength is as a football player? Maybe your speed?

James: Yeah my speed, I’m just a natural pass rusher.

Tom: What about some of the things you think you need to work on? Obviously you’ve already mentioned technique.

James: Yeah, I mean I really haven’t been playing football that long to be honest my first season was my junior year in high school so basically I didn’t really have anybody to actually coach me up or teach me the position. Then I redshirted when I got to Virginia Tech and they don’t really teach you anything when you redshirt so I was just learning how to play the position my redshirt freshman year.

Tom: Do you have any mentors for the defensive end position? People you’ve patterned your game after?

James: Oh yeah definitely. Coach [Charley] Wiles the defensive line coach, Cornell Brown has been really instrumental and then I watch a lot of film of Bruce Smith since he played here.

Tom: What is one thing that every defensive end has to have in order to be successful?

James: I think he has to be aggressive. That’s something you can’t really teach a guy to be honest. There are a bunch of guys that have ability but they’re not aggressive, but then there are guys that have less ability but are more aggressive and I think that’s important. I feel like that’s something you can’t teach, but I think that also goes for every position.

Tom: Are there any players on defense that stuck out to you during the spring? Anyone I might not have heard about?

James: Antone Exum. I think he’s going to be one of the best corners in the nation this year, him and Kyle Fuller. Antone runs a 4.3 and he’s like 225 pounds. He’s a good corner. Kyle is really good too he plays a lot bigger than he is. I’ve seen him lay some guys out that he was much smaller than.

Tom: Anyone on offense that has especially impressed you?

James: The running backs J.C. Coleman and Michael Holmes, then Logan Thomas. The receivers too, I know Marcus Davis is going to have a big year. For the most part our offense is going to do pretty well.

Tom: I’m sure Hokie fans will be encouraged to hear that the running backs look good since you just lost David Wilson and Josh Oglesby.

James: Yeah it’s pretty different because when I came here I played against three All-American running backs. I played against Darren Evans first, then Ryan [Williams] and then David [Wilson]. So I’m pretty sure one of those guys is ready to step up next.

Tom: You’re getting some hype coming into the season, do you feel any added pressure because of some loftier expectations?

James: No not at all. I feel like I’m just going to play my game. I feel like the expectations that people have for me coming into the season aren’t any higher than the expectations I already have for myself, so it’s not any different. I feel like I should be one of the best defensive ends in the country and I feel like I should be an All-American.

Tom: I know you saw me mention that you and J.R. Collins are one of the best defensive end tandems in college football, what do you think makes him so dangerous?

James: J.R. Collins is relentless. I totally agree that we’re a great tandem too because I think that J.R. Collins’ name should be up there with any of the best defensive ends in the ACC this year. He’s relentless, he’s hard-nosed and if I could pick anybody to play on the opposite side of me it would be him.

Tom: That’s a glowing recommendation. And I was just looking at your defensive line depth chart last night and it occurred to me that you guys could have one of the best defensive lines in the country as well. Do you think that’s possible?

James: I definitely think it’s possible. I feel like if it weren’t for my injury last year we would have been one of the best in the country from a pass rush standpoint.

Tom: And then you have the Hopkins brothers. You guys have a lot of returning experience on that defensive line.

James: Yeah the Hopkins brothers! I feel like our defensive line is going to be one of the best of the country. Both of them are really good players, and then we’ve got Luther Maddy who started last year as a true freshman at defensive tackle, so we essentially have a couple starters at second string.

Tom: Ok, who are the rotational guys behind you and J.R.?

James: Tyrel Wilson is the guy behind me, he did well last year. And behind J.R. is Zack McCray, plus we have another defensive end named Dadi Nicholas who redshirted last year.

Tom: Did you say his first name is Dadi? That’s AWESOME!

James: Yeah his first name is Dadi, haha.

Tom: What is it like playing for Bud Foster in his aggressive defense? I imagine it’s pretty fun.

James: Oh definitely, because I feel like I’m a pretty aggressive player so coming to school with an aggressive defensive coordinator it just matches. So I really enjoy playing for him.

Tom: Are you comfortable buzzing into coverage? Foster likes to bring zone blitzes so I know he asks you to drop sometimes.

James: Yeah definitely I feel really comfortable dropping into coverage. At first when you don’t do it for a while it’s weird but I’ve been doing it all summer since I’ve been working out with the DB’s so I’m comfortable doing it.

Tom: Uh-oh… I hope they don’t move you to safety James. You’ve got the speed for it after all.

James: Hahaha. I don’t think I’m ready for some of these little receivers though!

Tom: Is there one game this year you are particularly looking forward to? Maybe Clemson?

James: Oh yeah definitely Clemson. They had our number last year but this year they gotta be ready to go to war.

Tom: You and Tajh [Boyd] go back to high school I’m sure you want to get a W against him.

James: Oh Tajh? Yeah definitely. I’ve been playing him since high school but I’ve never been able to beat him.

Tom: I think this year might be the year then James.

James: Yeah, hopefully.

Tom: You’ve got a pretty good football pedigree with your dad Jimmy playing running back at Ohio State from 1979-82 and your Uncle Shaun playing DB for the Buckeyes and in the NFL from 1984-95 as well. Do you think that has helped you pick up the game so quickly?

James: Absolutely. I feel like I have strong football bloodlines since both my father and uncle played at Ohio State. I think my dad was an All-Big Ten running back so that might be where I get my speed from. Actually in high school my father was one of the fastest backs in the nation. I think that’s where the speed came from.

Tom: I definitely think that could be where you got your speed from.

James: Yeah I’d say that’s it, haha.

Tom: I read in an article that before you started playing football you were “more of a video game guy” and that after you got done with video games you said “I think I’ll just play football.” How did that come about?

James: I really wasn’t that interested in playing football when school first started so I just played video games. Then I got tired of that and just decided to play football, but I had never lifted weights or anything so I was like 160 pounds at the end of my 10th grade year. So I just started lifting weights and eating right and by the beginning of my senior year I was like 210. Now that I’m over 260 I’ve put on over 100 pounds of muscle since high school.

Tom: And you haven’t lost any speed, that’s the scary thing. Now, do you still play video games? If so, what’s your favorite game to play?

James: Nah, I guess I kinda played myself out of that. I guess I play some NCAA. They’ve got me rated as one of the best defensive ends on the game so that’s good.

Tom: What is one thing you would like the world to know about you that it may not already know?

James: Man, that’s tough. I guess that I can actually run a 4.4 because every time I get on the internet I see people saying I run a 4.7 or something like that. I want people to know that I have that kind of speed because that’s what I take pride in.

Tom: I had definitely read that you had 4.4 speed, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to believe that a 260 pound defensive end had 4.4 speed, that shit scares me.

James: Well I’ve seen guys at 270 be timed in the 4.5’s! It’s possible, there are guys that can do it. I guess we’ll see if I get my shot at the combine.

Tom: Well I predict that you will, that’s my prediction. It’s not bold, but it’s a prediction.

James: Haha, we’ll see.

Tom: I just want you to realize how unfair it is that you can run a 4.4 at that size, even a 4.5 would be just disgusting.

James: Well I’m very confident I can run a 4.5. I’ve never ran a laser 40 time, but I know I can do it.

Tom: Well that’s about all I have, do you have any questions for me?

James: No I don’t think so.

Tom: Well thank you for your time James, I appreciate the chance to talk with you a little more in depth. When does camp start up for you?

James: August 7th, I’m getting ready.

Only a couple weeks away! I’m ready for some football. Well good luck with the rest of your training and good luck this season!

James: Thanks! It was great talking to you.

Tom: You’re welcome, it was great talking with you as well. Take care.