Tag Archive: Matt Barkley


**These are not ranked in any particular order**

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia-

Smith started the season out at an RGIII like pace, but as the season continued his play became more inconsistent and more frustrating. I still think he is the odds on favorite to be the top QB selected, but his issues staring down his primary receiver, throwing with inconsistent footwork and not stepping into all of his throws have been fairly well documented. He has good NFL size, arm strength, impressive accuracy and pocket poise, but he wasn’t as consistent as you would like over the course of the season and even as a fan of his he left something to be desired fairly regularly as the season went on. It’s hard for me to label him as a franchise QB given some of the question marks that surround him this year, but I think he has that upside. I have heard a couple different things about his intangibles so I would love to be a fly on the wall for his interviews with NFL teams. Alas, that isn’t likely to happen, so I’ll just have to keep my ear to the ground to try to get more details about his work ethic (which I have heard is very good) and his leadership capability. He’s still my #1 QB, but like every QB in this class he is not without flaws.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas-

Tyler Wilson and the entire Arkansas team had a very, very underwhelming season and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) Arkansas’ season is over. Wilson is still a first round pick if you ask me, because outside of Cobi Hamilton and Dennis Johnson he did not have much in the way of help this season. I’m sure some will argue that he was boosted by his supporting cast last season, but if his play was elevated by it last year it was dragged down by his cast this season. Outside of Cobi Hamilton no wide receiver was a consistent threat, and Knile Davis was not his regular self for almost the entire year. Dennis Johnson stepped up to fill the void when they gave him the opportunity, but even with his “emergence” (some of us already knew he could play) Wilson was under near constant pressure because of his terrible offensive line. He has a bit of a gunslinger mentality that some will like and some won’t, and he isn’t a perfect prospect by any means either. But I love his intangibles and leadership capability and I think he has more than enough arm talent to be a quality NFL starter. I think he still ends up in the top 15 after the draft process runs its course and teams get to interview him. Someone will fall in love with him (if not multiple QB needy teams) and they’ll make an effort to go get him.

Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State-

Glennon is a guy I just recently caught up on and I have to say I was impressed. We all knew he had the size and arm strength to play in the NFL, but his accuracy is better than it was last season during his first season as a starter and he throws a great deep ball. He flashes the ability to feel the pressure and step up in the pocket, though he does consistently hold onto the ball too long and doesn’t always read blitzes well pre-snap. My big problem with Glennon is that he needs functional space around him, a clean pocket, or room around him when he is throwing on the run to be good and sometimes even great. His issues become evident in muddied pockets or with pressure closing in after which his mechanics break down, he fades away from throws and his accuracy suffers as a result. He has the natural arm strength to get away with some of these throws, and consistently throws accurately on short throws even with pressure in his face (particularly on drag routes) but his drop off in accuracy and decision making is definitely concerning to me. I’ve seen him stand in and make one great throw with a defender in his face in the three 2012 games I’ve watched of him so far, but my impression is that seeing him do that is a rarity. If you draft him and you protect him I think you will be able to win games with him and go to the playoffs, but when the protection breaks down and he has to make big time throws in muddied pockets I think he will struggle. He’s only in his second season as a starter so perhaps he can continue to make strides in this area (Matt Ryan has had issues with this as well) but right now I would have reservations about taking him in the top 40 picks, though I do think he will end up in the 2nd round. I have a 3rd round grade on him at this point in the draft process after watching more of his 2012 games. Previously I had a 4th round grade on him. I look forward to seeing him in person at the Senior Bowl.

Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal-

Barkley came back for his senior season expecting to make a serious run at the National Championship, the Heisman trophy and at the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Having just finished watching his team lose to Notre Dame without him (while his understudy Max Wittek made some freshman mistakes along with some very impressive throws in his first career start) it’s safe to say Barkley isn’t anywhere close to the BCS title game, the Heisman or to going #1 overall. I personally don’t think he will be the 1st or 2nd QB selected, but he does have a good chance to be the #3 QB selected in a class that has really underwhelmed all year long. My friend and colleague Eric Stoner (@ECStoner) pointed out something that had been previously overlooked with Barkley- aside from his fantastic finish to the season last year, he was largely what he was this season his entire career. I had never thought of it that way, but that sums it up pretty perfectly- He kind of had a Mark Sanchez rise at the end of last season and he never really sustained that level of play even with the herculean effort of Marqise Lee over the course of the year. My thoughts on him haven’t changed since the beginning of the season- he seems to be elevated by the talent around him, he doesn’t have the arm strength to put appropriate NFL velocity on some intermediate throws, his deep balls hang in the air, and he threw a mind-blowing number of short/behind the line of scrimmage passes this season as a result of all of this. He might still go in the 1st round, but there will be plenty of people making arguments for him to fall out of the top 32 selections and it’s hard to make a great argument that they’re wrong at this point. I have been on the Barkley bandwagon since he was a freshman and I hate to sound like I’m throwing him under the bus since I have been advocating him to be a starter since before his freshman year and you could tell he had a NFL future early on in his career. But he doesn’t have a lot of upside left and his lack of good/great arm strength is going to hurt him at the next level. I think he will get a shot to be a NFL starter, but I’m not convinced that he will be a quality NFL starter at this point and I wouldn’t be very comfortable drafting him as my definite QB of the future as much as it hurts me to say it.

Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee-

Bray is pretty much the polar opposite of Barkley in my opinion. He is 6’5”, skinny with lots of room to grow, has Jay Cutler-esque arm talent and unfortunately Jay Cutler-esque mechanics/decision making. He is a very talented kid with the ability to make any NFL throw even off of his back foot and that talent allows him to get away with poor footwork and weight transfer very frequently which is really too bad. He needs to be drafted by a team with a QB or QB coach that will mentor him and push him to improve his mechanics because they are a huge part of what is holding him back from reaching his immense potential. He is a frustrating kid to evaluate for this reason, and without being able to talk to his coaches, teammates and Bray himself it’s hard to evaluate how hard he is willing to work to improve his deficiencies, and I haven’t heard great things about his work ethic or intangibles thus far. NFL teams won’t like that, but there is going to be some NFL team that falls in love with his God-given talent that drafts him in the 2nd round if not higher. I liked Bray a lot coming into the season, but he didn’t progress like I hoped he might and his shortcomings were pretty obvious when you paid attention to him. I’m not sure if he will declare or not, it depends quite a bit on who Tennessee hires to replace Dooley if you ask me, but I think he is more likely to leave than he is to stay. He’s not ready to walk in and be a NFL starter in my opinion, but his raw upside gives him a chance at sneaking into the 1st round. Personally I would not want to tie my franchise to him right now, and I think the ideal situation for him would be to go to a team with an established veteran QB that can show him the ropes for a couple years, not unlike Ryan Mallett with the Patriots. I don’t know if Bray will be as lucky as Mallett was though.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma-

I have been underwhelmed by Jones for quite some time and despite a couple late wins this season that has not changed. I don’t think he’s a NFL starter and that stems from his lack of poise under pressure, less than ideal velocity on his passes, and the fact that I think he is elevated by the talent around him versus making everyone around him better. Because draftniks and likely scouts have been down on him so long I think it’s possible that some will start to proclaim he is underrated but I don’t buy that logic. He looked like a fourth round pick and a NFL back-up last year and his play this season hasn’t changed my mind about that. I haven’t studied him specifically this year, but nothing I’ve seen of him live has made me say “wow, I was wrong about him!” If anything it has reaffirmed that he’s good enough to get drafted, but that he is not a franchise QB or even a future quality NFL starter in my estimation.

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech-

Thomas may have underwhelmed more than any other draft-eligible 2013 NFL Draft this year and I say that as someone who was very intrigued by his first season as a starter last year. He’s got all the size, arm strength and athleticism you could want in a quarterback, but his accuracy was erratic at best this year and his decision making regressed along with his mechanics over the course of the season. He came into the season being hyped up by some as a potential top 5 pick if he continued to progress and I can’t deny that I was one of the people who thought he had a chance to do that. However, it became clear early on that he was not ready to declare and not even ready to lead Virginia Tech to an above .500 record (the Hokies finished 6-6 this year). He has a LONG way to go before he will be a quality NFL starting QB, but there are split opinions on whether or not he should stay or declare. I think he should absolutely stay, but some think that he should go to the next level and begin getting NFL level coaching. Personally, I think he needs to work hard this offseason to improve his mechanics, gain chemistry with his returning receivers and come back and prove that he can be a leader and a catalyst on a team that competes for the ACC title. I thought he had a chance to do that this year, but the lack of a consistent running game and Thomas’ own issues compounded the problems that the Hokies had from top to bottom. I’m not going to buy him as a leader and as a player with quality intangibles until his decision making improves and until he shows he can command a game pre-snap. He has a lot of room to improve, and if his accuracy never improves he will remain a developmental project that may or may never live up to his immense raw potential. I like him, and I still think he can make strides this offseason and next year in his third season as a starter, but he has plenty of work to do.

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Aundrey Walker took over as USC’s left tackle only a few practices into Spring Ball and hasn’t looked back. He is the only new starter on USC’s offensive line, and must replace Matt Kalil while protecting Matt Barkley’s blind side.

Tom: First of all Aundrey, 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 it like playing on USC last year?

Aundrey: I mean it was different from High School. I feel like camp here made you a man, and made you actually realize “did you want to play this game, do you want to play this sport” and at USC the team, the coaches, it’s a lot of love. I had a great time last season and I’m really looking forward to this season.

Tom: What ultimately made you decide to go and stay at USC despite the sanctions?

Aundrey: It was just my dream, it was my dream school and when I got the offer I was lost for words because it was just three years ago I was watching them on TV and now I had a chance to be a USC player so I thought why not take it. It wasn’t just looking at the football side, it was academics too. You can do a lot of things with a USC degree so I knew it was a good route to take.

Tom: What was the team’s mindset like given the 2nd and last year of the bowl ban?

Aundrey: The mindset was just go out there and have fun. I mean, we really didn’t worry about the bowl sanctions to be honest. It was more about establishing team unity and becoming more of a family. We just went out there and played, went out there and played as a team.

Tom: Is the team excited to finally have a chance at a BCS bowl game again?

Aundrey: Oh of course. It’s always been a dream for a high school kid to come to college and play in a bowl game. I’m happy that we have the opportunity to compete for a bowl and we are all looking forward to it.

Tom: What was your playing weight during the season last year?

Aundrey: Last year in January I was 378 on my visit here at USC and I went back home and my Uncle was told me “you can’t go to college at that weight” and I came to USC at 352. But through all that I was gaining weight as I was at USC. Mini-camp came around and I got down to 346, then I went home in December at 344 or 342 and came back 330. I just kept going through the training and weight lifting with the whole training staff and I lost 30 more pounds to get down to 296. That was my last time I weighed in at 296. It really only took me four months to lose all that weight.

Tom: That is amazing Aundrey. You should be really proud of that. Obviously you changed your eating habits, but what kind of weight training did you do to help you lose so much weight?

Aundrey: It was a lot of conditioning, a lot of running, a lot of cardio. And when we lift weights it will be low weight but heavy reps so you burn more fat.

Tom: Do you feel faster now that you are under 300 pounds?

Aundrey: Oh yeah of course, I feel like a gazelle out there.

Tom: What has playing lighter changed most about your game?

Aundrey: I’m more explosive and quicker off the ball and I feel like I can compete. When I played at 346 I was very sluggish and I lost my breath a lot. Within five plays I would lose my breath, but now I can play forever I feel like.

Tom: I remember reading that you said you were “surprised” that you were named the left tackle over Kevin Graf, did you expect to be at right tackle this year?

Aundrey: It was really just, whatever my team needed me to do I was going to do it. That was my mindset. If I was right tackle, right guard, left tackle, center it doesn’t matter. I was just out there working and they switched me over and if I got the opportunity to play left tackle why not take it. I worked hard and I’m still working hard to maintain this spot.

Tom: I read that Graf started out the spring at left tackle, but shortly after you were at left tackle the rest of the way. Is that true?

Aundrey: Yeah.

Tom: What was your reaction when the team moved you to the left side?

Aundrey: Did you say what was the team’s reaction?

Tom: No what was your reaction, but yeah both!

Aundrey: I mean the team was happy with it, it was a coaching decision and they felt comfortable with me playing there. I have to go out there and play hard every play to help keep Matt Barkley protected. But I was happy obviously, a very good feeling.

Tom: Did your offensive line coach mention anything to you about things you were doing well during spring ball?

Aundrey: I don’t ask him much about that, I’m more of a guy who likes to work on my game and work on the flaws of it so he’s going to send me a cut-up of things where I need to improve. We’re more focused on those things.

Tom: What are some of the things you think you need to work on?

Aundrey: I would say my point of contact, I think I open up a bit too much in pass pro just being honest with myself, I think I need to work on that. If I stop opening up so quick I think I can be a great pass protector.

Tom: I know you said you like to focus on where you need to improve, but if you had to pick one of your greatest strengths as an offensive tackle what would it be?

Aundrey: I like to pull and to get out in space and POUND dudes.

Tom: Did you pick anything up from Matt Kalil while you were at USC with him?

Aundrey: Oh yeah I picked up a lot from him! The reason I was so determined was because of him. He told me that I have to grind. He told me the left tackle spot was open and I had to go out and take it. I promised him I would come back at 320 pounds and I did. So I mean I always looked at him and his pass protecting, he was a great pass protector, a great run blocker. He was just an all around great player and athlete.

Tom: Would you say he’s one of your mentors for the position?

Aundrey: Oh of course, of course.

Tom: Do you have any other mentors?

Aundrey: I work with LeCharles Bentley, he helps me a lot.

Tom: Did you ever get to go up against Nick Perry in practice?

Aundrey: I think it happened one time. It was a lot to handle it really was, knowing that he was a big NFL prospect.

Tom: Did you stop him or did he get you?

Aundrey: Umm… It was at the point of contact and I couldn’t really move him he’s just a brick.

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

Aundrey: Everybody who is on defense right now is stickin’ out.

Tom: Give me one player who really balled out on defense.

Aundrey: TJ. But that’s normal for TJ, he’s a great player. On the whole we have a great defense. Dion [Bailey], Hayes [Pullard], Lamar [Holmes], Wes Horton, Nickell Robey.

Tom: Anyone on offense that has especially impressed you?

Aundrey: Same. All around we are a great team I feel like. Offense we have targets, defense we have talent. I can speak for everybody. Our whole offensive line, quarterback, running back, receivers, tight end, everybody is talented.

Tom: Do you feel any added pressure being the only new starter on the offensive line?

Aundrey: No, not at all.

Tom: I mentioned earlier that you’ve got a little nastiness to you, is there anyone else on the offensive line like that?

Aundrey: Khaled Holmes. He’s a great guy, a great role model. He’s very smart, very intelligent. He knows everything. The whole playbook, he’s like another coach away from the coaches.

Tom: That’s great to hear. I like John Martinez too, what’s the story on him?

Aundrey: Oh, John Martinez? Oh my god he’s an animal. Just one word: animal. That defines John Martinez.

Tom: I really like that he can play center and guard, I like that versatility.

Aundrey: Oh yeah absolutely. I mean he came in as the #1 recruit as a center right?

Tom: I think so. Oh, and tell me he still has the afro from last year.

Aundrey: Oh yeah he has braids now though.

Tom: Do you have any specific goals for the upcoming season, both for the team and for yourself?

Aundrey: Just go out there and play, just have fun. That’s all it is, go out there and try to win every game, step by step, day by day.

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

Aundrey: All games. All games are important and we just have to go game by game. There’s not one particular game I’m focused on because we need to win every game.

Tom: Is there a defensive lineman you are particularly excited to go up against?

Aundrey: I haven’t heard anything yet, probably during mini-camp and before the season I’ll hear something but no I’m not worried about anyone really.

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

Aundrey: I’m a great guy, I love to sing, and I’m determined and dedicated to be successful and failure is not an option.

Tom: Wow, that’s probably the best answer I’ve ever heard for that question. What’s your favorite song to sing?

Aundrey: My favorite thing to sing? Another Day, Another Dollar hahaha.

Tom: Haha! Good answer! My favorite thing to sing is any Eminem song.

Aundrey: Hahaha.

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

Aundrey: No not at all, thank you so much.

Tom: Great, well thank you for taking the time to talk with me and I am looking forward to watching you this season! I’m sure we’ll talk before the season, good luck with the rest of your training. When does summer camp start for you?

Aundrey: August 7th I believe.

Tom: Alright, well congratulations on all your progress, and I’ll be in touch! I’ll send you the link when I get the interview up on the site. Thanks again Aundrey.

Aundrey: Great, thank you.

McNeal emerged and was the unsung hero of USC’s dominant offensive attack over the last half of the season. This year he is the incumbent starter and figures to turn even more heads in 2012.

Size: McNeal is listed at 5’7”, 182 pounds and while he might look like an undersized back, and to an extent he is, he has the leg strength to gain tough yards after contact and he does a good job of keeping his pads low and really packs a punch when he initiates contact because of his low pad level. His size isn’t elite by any means, and it may keep him from being a true feature back, but if he can get up to 190 pounds without losing speed I think he could be a very effective NFL back.

Speed: McNeal has very impressive speed. I think he might be a 4.45 guy or faster, which is impressive and necessary to compensate for his lack of size. He has the speed to consistently get the edge, though USC rarely tested that speed and usually ran him between the tackles. He did show the ability to bounce runs outside and get the corner, and he has the straight-line speed to break off big play touchdown runs. His speed is definitely one of his strongest assets.

Quickness: McNeal also has impressive quickness, especially when making cuts and changing direction. It makes him difficult to tackle for a loss, it makes him a significant threat in the open field, and it helps him hit the hole quickly once it forms. His quickness is impressive, and it makes him a potentially very good fit in a “one cut and run” system that many teams incorporate.

Running Inside: McNeal spent much more time running inside than you might think for a back his size. After Marc Tyler was injured and struggled to be effective USC began to rely on McNeal more and more as the season went on, essentially replacing Tyler with McNeal in his exact role. The difference was, McNeal could get to holes faster than Tyler did, got through them faster than Tyler did, and got chunks of yardage as well as some very big touchdown runs that Tyler couldn’t have made. Tyler was relegated to more of a power-back, short-yardage role because of McNeal’s effectiveness and that had a lot to do with McNeal’s ability to find cut-back lanes inside, set up his blocks patiently, and hit holes once they presented themselves. McNeal was running similar plays to what Tyler was, he was just producing more significant yardage when given those carries. McNeal’s size may make people doubt that he can run inside, but there were only two instances where I didn’t see him fall forward for additional yardage at the end of tough runs. On top of that, he has impressive leg drive that helps him gain tough yardage after initial contact, and regularly gained additional yardage after a defender got his hands on him. His quickness and his leg strength helps him run through arm tackles, but he has also shown the ability to take huge hits and maintain his balance which is very impressive. When he can plant and go he really picks up a head of steam and actually injured a player or two trying to tackle him heads up because he generates such significant pop on contact due to his leg strength, speed and low pad level. McNeal is an effective inside runner, and that should open up the possibility of being the #2 back in a balanced backfield in the NFL, if not being a feature back.

Running Outside: McNeal has the ability to do this, as his patient running style allows his blocks to set and his ability to plant, make one cut and go means defenses can’t overpursue or he will find a cut-back lane and make them pay. It will be interesting to see if USC runs more power, off tackle and toss plays next year, because when they did run power and off-tackle plays McNeal was very successful because of his speed (though, on a couple of his big runs, Matt Kalil essentially blocked two people and sealed off a 3rd when they ran off tackle). McNeal is an effective outside runner but also effective at finding cut-back lanes, so as he gets more carries as a senior he should prove to be an effective outside runner.

Receiving: McNeal hasn’t been used often as a receiver, but I didn’t see him drop a pass in any of the games I watched even as he became an ever more integral cog in the USC offensive attack. He catches the ball with his hands effectively, looks the ball in, and is obviously dangerous after the catch because of his speed, quickness and ability to use his blocks effectively. I don’t think he will ever be split out a lot and probably won’t run a lot of intermediate/deep routes, but he is reliable catching the ball out of the backfield on short passes at least.

Blocking: McNeal’s size is a hindrance to him as a blocker, but he did a surprisingly good job at it considering his limited playing experience at that point. I think his ability to pass block made it easier and easier for Lane Kiffin to trust him as the feature back as the season went on, and likely played as much of a role in him getting the majority of the carries as his ability to gain quality yards running and catching the ball out of the backfield. McNeal isn’t an elite pass blocker, and he probably never will be because of his size, but he consistently made the right blitz pick-up, squared him up and popped him. He doesn’t do a very good job of sustaining since almost all of the defenders he is picking up in pass protection are bigger and sometimes stronger than him, but he slows them up before he releases to the flat or cut-blocks them and takes them out of the play completely. McNeal showed an impressive cut-block multiple times, which is great to see because of his lack of great size. Not only that, he even showed that he could make a cut-block to save Barkley’s skin, and then got up and released and caught a check-down from him. McNeal isn’t a great pass blocker, but he is pretty reliable given his stature.

Vision: McNeal’s vision is pretty good, but I want to see more from him in this area. Now that he is likely to be the feature back all season we should get a better look at this, but at times there were great run lanes for him to run through and those were often his best runs (as you would expect) but he did show the ability to find cut back lanes and showed good enough vision for me to give him a positive grade in this area. But now that he’s the feature back we should get a much better feel for it, though he has consistently shown a patient running style and an impressive ability to use his blockers at the line of scrimmage or downfield.

Carrying: This is one place where McNeal worries me a little bit, but it is correctable obviously. McNeal had a couple key fumbles last year, including one in overtime against Stanford that ultimately lost USC the game. He regularly only has one hand on the ball when contact is imminent, and the safest way to prevent fumbling is to get into the habit of covering up the ball when contact is coming. He doesn’t do that right now, and not surprisingly it has led to a couple of unfortunate fumbles. If he learns to do this (and I would imagine he will, Kiffin has benched multiple backs for fumble issues in the past two years) then it will alleviate many of my fumbling concerns. It isn’t a huge problem, but you’d hate to sully a good or great game with an untimely fumble at the end like McNeal did versus Stanford last season.

Injuries: McNeal got knocked out of the game once or maybe twice because of particularly hard hits last season, but he returned each time and continued to be effective. He has proven to be pretty durable, but carrying the load as one of the only proven backs on USC’s offense for an entire season will be a lot different than emerging as the best back and having a starring role for the last 6 games. His durability will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses because as the season wore on last year I was wondering if he lost a little bit of his impressive burst and straight-line speed. If he wears down over the course of the season USC’s rushing attack could have similar problems to the beginning of the 2011 season, when McNeal was not getting consistent carries.

Character: McNeal’s emergence was delayed partially because of the coaching staff preferring Marc Tyler’s experience and partially because McNeal was academically ineligible for the 2010 season, delaying his possible emergence to 2011. He was not utilized very much prior to that, so his limited touches did not give Kiffin and the offensive staff any reason to start him over Tyler. That led to an ineffective running game before McNeal seized his chance after Tyler’s injury and eventually became the go-to guy. He has since dedicated himself to his studies and obviously was eligible last year, but it is worth noting that he had an issue with that in the past. Beyond that, I have very little insight into McNeal’s character.

Overall: McNeal definitely has draftable ability, it is only a question of how high he is selected. At this point, I think he is one of the top returning senior running backs and should open even more eyes as his role is expanded during the 2012 season on a very high-octane offense thanks to Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and two very talented sophomore tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble. McNeal won’t face a lot of defenses that dare to put more than 7 men in the box, and if they do Barkley and company should make them pay. McNeal is set to have a complete break-out season this year, though his true break-out was last season when he carried the ball 24 times for 118 yards against Notre Dame. He would finish only two games with under 100 yards after that, totaling 87 and 94 yards in those two contests. He has possible sub 4.45 speed, impressive quickness, burst and acceleration and enough vision to find cut-back lanes when defenses overpursue. Despite his lack of size, he has strong legs and uses that to run through arm tackles and to gain tough yardage after contact, even injuring a player or two because of the impressive pop he creates after contact. He has flashed the ability to catch the ball effectively out of the backfield as well as pass block despite his lack of size and bulk. He has shown that he has the tools to be a complete back despite his size and figures to be a key cog in USC’s offensive machine again this year, much like he was in the last 6-8 games last year. I think he will open a lot of eyes as the season goes on, but I am a McNeal fan and have been since I was begging Kiffin to give him more carries after I watched him play Syracuse and Arizona last year (he had 5 carries for 79 yards vs. Syracuse and 7 carries for 74 yards vs. Arizona). The next 7 games he had four 100 yard games and 6 touchdowns, with 86, 87 and 94 yards in each of the three games he didn’t exceed 100 yards. He averaged 6.93 yards per carry, among the best of the country, and proved to me that he has the ability to be a complete back at the college and potentially at the NFL level. I look forward to watching him play for a full season as the returning starter.

Projection: 3rd round. It’s tough to project him much higher because he has only had significant work for less than one whole season, and his size, fumbling and durability questions will certainly warrant further consideration. But he’s a complete back than can run effectively, catch effectively, and pass block better than you would expect given his size. He has NFL caliber talent, but he isn’t going to be a 1st round pick.
Thanks for reading, hopefully you have enjoyed these four initial Pre-Season Scouting reports. There is more to come, but first I will be posting an interview with new USC left tackle Aundrey Walker tomorrow, and a Logan Thomas Pre-Season report sometime after that.

–Tom

Holmes is highly touted and regularly ranked as the #1 center in the country, but he has a number of flaws in his game that concern me.

Size: Holmes is listed at 6’3”, 310 pounds, which is very impressive size for a center. Not sure how long his arms are, but he has the frame to add weight to his lower body. His size is the first thing you notice about him. He’s the size of a guard but plays center, which is what every NFL team is looking for. You love to essentially have three guards on the field, except one of them is snapping the ball. Not many teams have that.

Athleticism: Holmes is a pretty good athlete. He doesn’t have a great first step off the line of scrimmage, but he gets to the second level well and does a good job double-teaming initially before getting to the second level where you would engage a linebacker. He is also athletic enough to get out in front of screens, though he rarely does as the center, and does a terrific job cut-blocking for a man his size. Holmes isn’t an elite athlete, but for a man his size he moves pretty well, and shows the ability to quickly maneuver when run blocking to wall off a defender and create a running lane.

Technique: This is where I have a problem with Holmes. I think his technique needs a lot of work, and he has some bad habits that will be hard to correct. First, his hand placement could use improvement. It is good at times initially, but far too many times he lets his hands get outside the numbers which will result in holding calls at the next level. I saw him hold more times than I could count, including many incidences where he should have obviously been called for holding, but he never drew a single holding penalty in any of the games I watched from his junior season (and I watched over half of USC’s games). Second, he leans too much as a blocker, leading to balance issues and problems sustaining blocks. This is especially apparent as a run blocker, as he will bend at the waist at times, lean into blocks either too much to the right or left, and the defender will make a quick move resulting in a block shed while Holmes often ends up on the ground. Third, he regularly takes poor angles when trying to block linebackers at the second level. Time and time again he lets linebackers get by him without being able to engage them, all because he doesn’t approach them correctly. To his credit, he did a better job of this later in the season, so there is hope for him to improve this, but it was a consistent issue throughout the year. Overall, his technique did not impress me in the least, and he has a ways to go before I will give him a good grade in this area. It is very difficult to get a player to stop bending at the waist and leaning into blocks too much, and it’s tough to improve a player’s balance particularly someone as large as a 300 pound offensive lineman. These are all issues that Holmes has, and unfortunately I don’t think they are easily corrected.

Pass Protection: Holmes is a pretty good pass protector considering all the issues I have with his ability as a run blocker. He has a pretty good anchor, though it could be improved, and it is pretty rare to see him get bull-rushed into the quarterback once he is in his pass set. He shows that he can sit down, anchor and stop a defensive tackle’s bull rush and does a solid job mirroring defenders. He is very smart so he rarely, if ever, picks up the wrong defender in pass protection. His size and lower body strength give him an advantage in pass protection as defensive linemen won’t be able to overpower him easily, though shorter, squattier players have a tendency to get into his pads and push him a yard or two before he anchors. Additionally, he will get beat off the ball every once in a while by a defender who has good burst off the ball and beats him with a quick move off either shoulder. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and when it does it leaves Barkley running for his life. Overall, Holmes is an above-average pass protector, but I want to see more from him in this area.

Run Blocking: Run blocking is one of my problems with Holmes. He certainly flashes some impressive play, particularly as a wall-off blocker and as a cut-blocker. However, he struggles to create movement as a drive blocker and struggles to sustain 1 on 1 blocks with defensive tackles quite a bit, and even struggles to keep linebackers blocked at times. There is a popular adage with great offensive lineman that “once they get your hands on you, you’re out of the play.” That is unfortunately not the case with Holmes, at least when run blocking, and frequently when a defensive lineman or linebacker made a play in the backfield against USC it could be traced back to a player Holmes was blocking or trying to block. It was a very alarming trend, particularly for someone who was getting 1st-2nd round pre-season grades and was often ranked the number one center in the 2013 NFL Draft class. Holmes does show a little nastiness to pancake defenders and to knock them down when combo-blocking (multiple times John Martinez, USC’s right guard #59, would be blocking a defensive tackle one on one and Holmes would come in from the side and knock him to the ground and proceed to the second level to find a linebacker). I like that in a lineman, particularly in a lineman that is often considered the quarterback of the offensive line. Holmes shows that he can initiate a block, turn the defender (or himself) and create a lane behind him for the back to run through, or he can make a cut block near the line of scrimmage or in space. That makes me think he projects better to a zone blocking scheme than a man blocking scheme, which is strange considering his impressive size for a center. Overall, Holmes’ run blocking is below-average, and there were plenty of instances where it was poor and even abysmal at times. He was the weak link at times in the running game, and that was with a true freshman starting at left guard. That is a concern for a supposedly good or great center.

Intangibles: This may be Holmes’ strongest area. According to Aundrey Walker, USC’s new starting left tackle, Holmes “knows the whole play-book, he’s like having another coach out on the field.” That’s a glowing recommendation, and it backs up what I have heard, read and observed about Holmes. He regularly makes line calls and points things out to Barkley at the line of scrimmage and he rarely makes a mental mistake in pass protection. He seems to be the leader of the offensive line, and that is definitely something that helps his overall grade. Having a center with Holmes’ level of football IQ is exactly what you want, and it often leads to a long career in the NFL.

Overall: Holmes is a tough guy to figure out, because he flashes impressive run blocking occasionally and he shows above-average pass blocking regularly, but when he makes mistakes in the run game they are extremely costly. He has impressive size for a center, he has above-average strength for the position, as well as pretty good athleticism. He also has the football IQ and starting experience to be able to compete for a starting job right away if it weren’t for his significant flaws as an every-down run blocker. Looking at him on paper, his size and athleticism plus his football IQ make him very attractive. However, his technique needs considerable work and some of his bad habits are not easily coached out of players. On top of that, he doesn’t project well to a man-blocking scheme that would ask him to move a defensive tackle off the ball one on one. He is a better fit in a zone blocking scheme that would take advantage of his mobility, his ability to cut block, and his ability to turn defenders and create cut-back lanes for backs to take advantage of. So while Holmes certainly has some impressive qualities, and some NFL caliber skills, he also has some issues that are serious red flags for me when projecting him to the next level.

Projection: 4th round. He gets a mid-round grade from me for now because he has draftable ability, and NFL teams will not discount his football IQ that is sure to impress in interviews as well as on the field. However, he absolutely needs to improve his technique and try to put an end to his bad habits if he is going to improve his draft stock this year. I’ll certainly be on the look-out for any improvements, but right now I can’t grade him in the top three rounds and he won’t be my #1 overall center the next time I update my center rankings.

Robert Woods is going to be at the top of many WR rankings this year, and for good reason. He’s one of the most NFL ready receivers in the country.

Size: Doesn’t have great size, but he is listed at 6’1”, 184 pounds. He could stand to add some weight, but he doesn’t look skinny to me on film. Adding some size and strength might help him beat more physical corners at the line, and he might struggle less with physicality from the defense in general.

Speed: Woods clearly has impressive speed. I don’t think he’s a 4.4 flat guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was timed in the 4.45-4.47 range. He has good burst off the ball and accelerates to his top speed quickly, allowing him to beat defenders in 1 on 1 coverage when he is given the opportunity. He’s not easy to overthrow deep, but it happens at times. Woods is also dangerous after the catch because of his speed, and because of his ability to gain yards after the catch he is used on returns as well as on offense. He often demands a safety over the top, making life easier for the other superstar wide receiver on the Trojans, Marqise Lee.

Quickness: Woods has impressive quickness as well. He changes directions quickly, and his quickness is always on display when he is running his routes. His change of direction speed and his burst make him ideal for quick screens and passes in the flat where he can make a man miss and pick up additional yardage. His quickness certainly informs his route running, and he definitely does a good job getting in and out of his breaks.

Release: Woods has a good release when he is allowed to get off the line of scrimmage without a challenge from the corner, but when he is engaged by a strong, physical corner he can have trouble getting off the line of scrimmage. He needs to get stronger, work on beating the jam and being physical once he is healthy, because it is one of the only things holding him back from being a truly complete, elite receiver prospect. USC moves him around constantly, playing him in the slot, in the backfield, and bringing him in motion frequently to try to help him avoid jams, but to be a top WR prospect he will need to learn how to beat the jam consistently.

Route Running: Woods’ route running has been great since he was a freshman, so it’s no surprise that he continues to run very good routes. This is one of Woods’ strengths without a doubt, and it helps him create consistent separation versus man coverage. He has a good feel for zone coverage as well and knows where to sit to give Barkley a target to throw to, and usually is on the same page with Barkley when running option routes and looking for back shoulder throw opportunities. As he continues to learn more and more about reading coverages pre and post snap I think he will become very dangerous on back-shoulder throws, but he still has room for improvement there.

Hands: Woods hands are very good, but when I was watching him last year he seemed to have one drop a game that he should have come down with. I’m not sure if they were concentration issues or not, but that is my best guess having watched over half of his 2011 games. He clearly has NFL caliber hands and catches the ball very cleanly outside of his frame. He rarely body catches and regularly makes impressive diving catches to bail out a less than stellar throw from Barkley. He can catch passes that are low, high, outside and he holds onto passes once he catches them even if there is contact immediately after he makes the reception. He will be able to go over the middle in the NFL, especially once he puts a little more weight on to help improve his durability. He can make the tough catches look easy, but he needs to make sure he eliminates the easy drops this upcoming season.

Body Control: Woods has pretty good body control, but I’m not ready to say he is good or great in this area yet. He shows the ability to make tough adjustments to the ball in the air, but while he came close to a lot of big plays on underthrown balls or passes thrown too far inside when they should have been outside, he didn’t often come down with them. Also, there were a number of times when he had a chance for a touchdown or a big play on the sideline but he didn’t quite get his feet in-bounds, resulting in an incompletion instead of a game-changing play. He can certainly improve this, he just needs to drill it, but he isn’t there yet in this aspect. I want to see him make those game-changing plays on difficult deep balls and catches near the sideline that he didn’t quite make last season. He has the tools and the ability to do it, he just needs to keep working at it.

In Traffic: Woods is a reliable receiver in traffic and because he can snag passes outside of his frame he gives Barkley a big target radius to throw to even though he isn’t much taller than 6’0”. Like Marqise Lee, he plays bigger than his actual listed size and that has something to do with his catch radius as well as his athleticism to track down poorly thrown balls with a quick adjustment on a ball thrown too far forward or too far behind or a diving catch when he is in full stride. He isn’t afraid to go over the middle and I don’t think I ever saw him make a catch in traffic and drop it as a result of contact, and there were plenty of instances where that could have happened. Once Woods catches that ball the only time it’s going to hit the ground is after he’s tackled and the ball gets placed between the hashes for another snap.

YAC: This is one of Woods’ best characteristics. Woods does a great job setting up and using his blockers both as a return man and as a receiver on screens or just running after the catch in general. He has impressive vision and while it can be risky, he knows when to cut back against the grain and when to forge ahead and get the tough yards. He can be physical as well, fighting for tough yards after contact is made, but is at his best when he can make defenders miss in the open field due to his stop/start ability and his impressive acceleration. It does concern me a little bit that he tends to run out of bounds at the end of plays instead of fighting for additional yardage, but some of that may have been a result of being banged up towards the end of the season. That’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on during his junior campaign.

Blocking: Woods isn’t a great blocker, but the effort is certainly there and once he gets stronger I think he will continue to improve in this area. He never got called for a hold in all of the games I watched, so that is certainly a plus, and there were a number of plays where his block downfield helped spring a big run for Curtis McNeal. He gives good effort and is certainly willing to block, plus he has some nastiness to him and really likes to blindside pursuing defenders, not unlike Hines Ward. I love to see that, and he got a couple really good licks on bigger defenders doing that as a sophomore.

Overall: Woods is at the top of my list of wide receivers right up there with Keenan Allen. I’ve been a huge fan of both since I watched them play as freshman and it’s going to be difficult to pick one over the other at any point. Woods is a complete receiver that catches the ball well, runs impressive routes, is dangerous after the catch, adds value as a return man and shows good effort as a blocker. Not only that, but he is a team player. According to an ESPN broadcast, Kiffin called Woods after a tough game where he was relatively ineffective because of injury and wanted to make sure he wasn’t down on himself. Woods told Kiffin that he didn’t care how many passes he caught because the team won. That’s the kind of receiver you want to have in your locker room. Right now he just needs to get stronger, work on beating jams at the line of scrimmage, clean up some of his easier drops and work on making tough catches deep and along the sideline. Those might seem like small critiques, and that’s because for the most part they are. Woods is a NFL ready receiver and should be a popular player come April if he can overcome some of the durability concerns that have been popping up recently. An injury is the only way Woods will be consistently stopped, though he could stand to improve against more physical defensive play. I’m very high on Woods and I am excited to watch him continue to progress as a junior, and I would be very surprised if he didn’t declare after this season.

Projection: Top 10. I don’t want to go much further than that, but Woods certainly has the skill set and NFL talent to go this high. I don’t think he is a franchise caliber receiver like Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss in his prime or Andre Johnson, but I think he has the potential to be a #1 wide receiver. If not, he is going to be an absolutely lethal #2.

Thanks for reading! Scouting reports on Khaled Holmes and Curtis McNeal will be up soon!

–Tom

Barkley was once considered the favorite to be the #1 overall pick, but after extensive study I don’t see any way that will happen.

Size: Barkley is listed at 6’2”, 220 pounds but that is probably a little generous. He is probably closer to 6’1” if I had to guess. While he certainly isn’t skinny, Barkley won’t be mistaken by anyone for a quarterback with elite size.

Arm Strength: Barkley’s arm strength is something plenty of talent evaluators are going to disagree on. He clearly doesn’t have “elite” arm strength, and I would even hesitate to describe his arm strength as “good”. If I had to put a label on it I would call his arm strength “above-average.” He has enough arm strength to play in the NFL, but he can’t make every throw with appropriate velocity, especially on throws outside the numbers. He struggles to make throws from the opposite hash to the far sideline as his passes tend to have a little air under them, which will allow NFL caliber corners and safeties to make plays on those passes. Lane Kiffin and USC clearly realize Barkley’s arm strength is not what makes him a good or great quarterback, and use plenty of short passes, bootlegs and screens to highlight Barkley’s abilities. His arm strength translates much better on throws down the middle as his velocity is better. He can make intermediate throws 15-20 yards downfield down the middle, and can put enough velocity on 10 yard curls to complete them at the next level. He can throw the deep ball as well, though his passes have plenty of air under them. He often only connects on deep passes when he quickly reads single coverage for either Robert Woods or Marqise Lee and throws the deep ball with plenty of air under it so they can run under it. What is troubling is that even though he doesn’t have good or great arm strength he doesn’t consistently throw deep passes in stride; some will be accurate, in stride catches, but plenty are either overthrown by a couple yards or underthrown, requiring the receiver to make a difficult adjustment to catch the ball. Luckily for Barkley, Woods and Lee are two of the best in the country at making these adjustments, so his deep ball statistics may be deceiving. It was also interesting to evaluate Barkley in a collapsing pocket or with defenders bearing down on him. He doesn’t have the arm strength to make intermediate throws off of his back foot with quality velocity, and doesn’t spin the ball as cleanly off of his back foot. However, he flashes enough accuracy to make a NFL throw if the player is wide open in the intermediate range where his lack of arm strength wouldn’t be a significant problem. Barkley’s arm strength may not be elite, but he may have just enough to be a NFL starter. However, he is somewhat reliant on a clean pocket to succeed, as he doesn’t have the arm to get quality velocity without stepping into his throws. Unfortunately, his overall his arm strength will limit what his NFL offensive coordinator will be able to do schematically.

Accuracy: Barkley’s accuracy is definitely one of his strengths, but I don’t think it is elite or great either. His accuracy on short and intermediate routes is consistent, but like any quarterback he has his misses. He consistently throws passes in stride and to the correct shoulder of the receiver, which allows Woods and Lee to take advantage of yards after catch opportunities. He also has pretty good accuracy when throwing off his back foot in the face of pressure. However, his ball placement isn’t elite, it just looks like it sometimes because his receivers both catch the ball so well outside of their frames. His ball placement on deep passes and fade routes leaves something to be desired. His deep passes are routinely either underthrown or overthrown, leaving his receivers attempting difficult adjustments on short throws and diving (often unsuccessfully) to get a hand on overthrows. Obviously deep passes are the most difficult to complete, but I worry about how often he will be able to complete these passes at the next level if he is struggling to complete them with two clearly NFL caliber receivers at USC.

Mechanics: Barkley’s mechanics are another one of his strengths. I wouldn’t call them elite, but they are certainly very good. He has a quick, efficient release with little wasted movement that allows him to get the ball out quickly in the face of pressure. His release point isn’t elite due to his size, but he has an over the top release that projects well to the NFL. Barkley’s footwork has improved significantly since he has been at USC, and at this point I would say he has very good footwork. He flashes very impressive footwork in the pocket side-stepping the rush, climbing the pocket, and buying time without leaving the pocket. However, at times he will throw off his back foot unnecessarily, which negatively impacts his pass velocity and how cleanly he spins the ball. He has plenty of experience under center and in shotgun, and his footwork on his drop-backs are quick and clean. His mechanics are well polished, which is to be expected considering he is a 4th year senior who is returning for his 4th full year as the starting quarterback for USC.

Athleticism: Barkley doesn’t have game-breaking athleticism but he is certainly athletic enough to avoid pressure in the pocket, scramble outside to buy more time, and pick up yardage if the defense takes away his passing options and there is some open field in front of him. He won’t be making highlight reel runs, but he isn’t a poor athlete by any means.

Pre/Post-Snap Reads: Pre-snap reads are one of Barkley’s strengths. He has a lot of experience as a starting quarterback so he has obviously seen a lot of different blitz packages, coverages, and defensive alignments, both pre and post snap. He frequently makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage and has good enough awareness to make a quick throw when corners are playing with big cushion even if he has a run play called. Barkley’s anticipation also may be his most elite characteristic as he frequently throws receivers open by releasing the ball as they are making their breaks. He might be the best in the country when it comes to making throws with that kind of anticipation. However, despite his great anticipation, I’m not convinced that he is elite when going through his progressions and reading the defense. Too many times he throws passes against quality 1 on 1 or double coverage for me to be convinced of that. He doesn’t panic under pressure which is good, and he certainly has shown that he will scan the field from left to right and vice versa when given the opportunity to do so, but he also has a tendency to lock onto Woods or Lee at times. That allows defenders to key on those throws and make plays on the ball. So while I love his pre-snap reads and his anticipation I still have some issues with his post-snap reads due to forced throws into coverage as well as his habit of locking onto his primary receiver a little too often. And while I realize this often has to do with play design, there are way too many times Barkley locks on to a receiver in the flat or a running back on a swing pass and doesn’t even scan the field, tosses an easy throw to them, and either gets free yardage or a tackle for loss. They aren’t NFL throws, aren’t even close to NFL reads, and they don’t translate to the NFL at all. I don’t know why the play design would require him to throw to the flat as his primary read, but if that’s the play design then his offense isn’t preparing him as well for the NFL as many might assume.

Decision Making: Barkley’s decision making has certainly improved a lot since his freshman year, but it still has room for improvement in my opinion. He still forces throws against good coverage when he should look elsewhere or check down too much for my liking. Not only that, at times he makes throws that he can get away with in college but in the NFL they could easily be incompletions or interceptions. Even some big downfield plays that he got were a result of his receivers bailing him out with great plays on underthrown passes. Every quarterback needs that at times, so I realize I am being a little harsh, but it is more of a pattern with Barkley than you would like from a franchise caliber quarterback and potential top 5 pick. His interceptions also dropped this year as he set a career high for touchdowns, so I realize I am getting picky here, but he is not an elite decision maker yet despite his very impressive statistics last year.

Intangibles: Barkley has impressive intangibles without a doubt. He was named a captain of USC’s football team as a sophomore, the first time that has ever happened as far as I know, and he was USC’s starting quarterback as a freshman, another first for the prestigious program. He is clearly the leader of the team and he showed a lot of leadership by coming back for his senior year to try to lead his team to a BCS Bowl Game and potentially a National Championship. He has also matured enough to not let interceptions noticeably rattle him, and he has shown that he can bounce back from turnovers and still make good throws. Additionally, there may not be a quarterback in the country who does a better job keeping defenses off balance with his cadence before the snap. Without fail Barkley gets defenders to either jump offsides or jump and recover, multiple times a game. That is a sign of his veteran experience as well as his football IQ. However, I don’t think Barkley is a “franchise” quarterback. I don’t think he elevates the play of the players around him, I think his performance has a lot to do with the talent around him. While he has improved both as a leader and as a player over the past three years, the caliber of players around him on offense was very impressive this year (save for a couple spots on the offensive line) and he had his best season. I’m not implying he is simply a product of his supporting cast, but it certainly has an impact. Barkley also has a pretty impressive football IQ, though I’m not ready to call it elite due to some of the issues I have mentioned previously.

Character: Barkley is a very good football player as well as a very good person, and is well known for his charity work off the field. He’s an easy kid to root for on the field and off of it, and you love to see that.

Overall: I have been a Matt Barkley fan since he walked onto campus at USC and began competing for the starting job. He may not have elite size or arm strength, but he’s a quality player and a quality person. Unfortunately, I don’t love him as much as a NFL prospect as I had previously expected, and I don’t see any way he will end up being the #1 overall pick come next April. Even with a terrific senior season he won’t improve his stock significantly unless he shows improved decision making, better accuracy on deep passes, and better production when throwing from a collapsing pocket and off of his back foot when under pressure. That may not sound fair, but NFL teams don’t make draft picks based on fairness. He is a very polished player, which is certainly a positive, but the downside is he doesn’t have a lot of mystery to his game and what you see is more than likely what you are going to get at the next level, even if he continues to improve a bit as a senior. His arm strength isn’t going to go from above-average to great between now and the draft, his accuracy isn’t likely to go from good to elite by April, and he probably won’t grow a couple inches to alleviate concerns about his height in the next 10 months. He’s a good college quarterback, but I don’t think he will ever be much more than a solid NFL starter due to his arm strength limitations. His accuracy and anticipation will give him a chance to start at the next level, but he is not a franchise quarterback and should not be a top 5 or 10 pick in my opinion.

Projection: Late 1st, Early 2nd. It doesn’t feel right to put him this low, but right now I can’t say he’s a top 10 pick. I just don’t think he has the raw talent to be a great NFL starter, and may have a similar career arc to Mark Sanchez. He has a better football IQ, and I don’t think players will have issues following him like some of his teammates seem to be having with Sanchez, but I think he will need a strong run game and defense to go deep into the playoffs much like Sanchez has.
Thanks for reading! I’ll have scouting reports up on Robert Woods, Khaled Holmes and Curtis McNeal shortly.

–Tom

Quarterback Rankings:

1-      Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal

2-      Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee*

3-      Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

4-      Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech*

5-      Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

6-      Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia*

7-      E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State

8-      Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State

9-      Casey Pachall, QB, TCU*

10-   Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

Running Back Rankings:

1-      Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina*

2-      Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

3-      Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas*

4-      Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State*

5-      Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina*

6-      Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh

7-      Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M*

8-      Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama*

9-      Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

10-   Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas

Wide Receiver Rankings:

1-      Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal*

2-      Keenan Allen, WR, California*

3-      Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee*

4-      Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State*

5-      Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee*

6-      Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

7-      Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

8-      Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

9-      Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon

10-   Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M
Tight End Rankings:

1-      Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame*

2-      Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State

3-      Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA

4-      Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn

5-      Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford*

6-      Michael Williams, TE, Alabama

7-      Jordan Reed, TE, Florida*

8-      Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut

9-      Colter Phillips, TE, Virginia

10-   Ben Cotton, TE, Nebraska
Offensive Tackle Rankings:

1-      Chris Faulk, OT, LSU*

2-      Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M*

3-      Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

4-      D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama*

5-      Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan*

6-      Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia

7-      Alex Hurst, OT, LSU

8-      Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse

9-      Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M*

10-   James Hurst, OT, North Carolina*
Offensive Guard Rankings:

1-      Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama

2-      Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

3-      Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

4-      Travis Frederick, OG, Wisconsin*

5-      Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas*

6-      Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky

7-      Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech

8-      Braden Hansen, OG, BYU

9-      Blaize Foltz, OG, TCU

10-   Lane Taylor, OG, Oklahoma State
Center Rankings:

1-      Khaled Holmes, C, Southern Cal

2-      Graham Pocic, C, Illinois

3-      Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas*

4-      James Ferentz, C, Iowa

5-      Mario Benavides, C, Louisville

6-      Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson

7-      Matt Stankiewitch, C, Penn State

8-      Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia

9-      Braxton Cave, C, Notre Dame

10-   Ivory Wade, C, Baylor
Defensive End Rankings:

1-      Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU*

2-      Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas*

3-      Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

4-      Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State*

5-      Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

6-      Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

7-      Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina

8-      Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

9-      James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech*

10-   William Gholston, DE, Michigan State*
Defensive Tackle Rankings:

1-      Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

2-      Johnathon Hankins, DT, Ohio State*

3-      Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

4-      Bennie Logan, DT, LSU*

5-      Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

6-      Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

7-      Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia

8-      Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois*

9-      Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida*

10-   Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
Middle Linebacker Rankings:

1-      Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame

2-      Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford

3-      Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina

4-      Michael Mauti, ILB, Penn State

5-      Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama

6-      Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State

7-      Jonathan Brown, ILB, Illinois*

8-      Bruce Taylor, ILB, Virginia Tech

9-      Jonathan Bostic, ILB, Florida

10-   Christian Robinson, ILB, Georgia
Outside Linebacker Rankings:

1-      Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia*

2-      Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU*

3-      Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M

4-      Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State

5-      C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama*

6-      Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State

7-      Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Florida*

8-      Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford

9-      Khaseem Green, OLB, Rutgers

10-   Kenny Tate, OLB, Maryland
Cornerback Rankings:

1-      David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State*

2-      Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State*

3-      Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

4-      Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU*

5-      Jonny Adams, CB, Michigan State

6-      Nickell Robey, CB, Southern Cal*

7-      Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas*

8-      Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State

9-      Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa

10-   Tharold Simon, CB, LSU*
Safety Rankings:

1-      Eric Reid, FS, LSU*

2-      T.J. McDonald, FS, Southern Cal

3-      Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas

4-      Robert Lester, FS, Alabama

5-      Tony Jefferson, FS, Oklahoma*

6-      Bacarri Rambo, SS, Georgia

7-      Ray Ray Armstrong, SS, Miami

8-      John Boyett, SS, Oregon

9-      Matt Elam, SS, Florida*

10-   Vaughn Telemaque, FS, Miami

Matt Barkley has decided to return for his senior season at USC. I like this decision and I am excited to see him play for one more year, but there will be a lot of pressure on him to be great.

I may have told some of you that I had a hunch that Barkley would come back for his senior season. It didn’t always seem particularly likely, but I had a feeling he might. He seems like the kind of guy who wants to win and wasn’t just in college to help him make it to the NFL. It seems that is the case after all as Barkley announced at 4 pm ET live on ESPN that he would be returning to USC for his senior season. He stated that he felt the 2012 Trojan squad had “serious unfinished business” and made it clear that his goal was to return to USC to try to lead them to a Rose Bowl or perhaps even a BCS National Championship. That will be a tall order, but Barkley returns to a team loaded with talent especially on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line is the only potential question mark, but he has two future first round picks at wide receiver in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee plus an emerging star at running back in Curtis McNeal. I am very much looking forward to watching him for his senior season, and I’m kind of glad he decided to come back. It is worth noting that he is losing star left tackle Matt Kalil, so the offensive line will need some tweaking. I think he had more to gain from coming back for his senior year than Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones do. Luck has made it clear he is leaving, but Griffin and Jones have not made their decisions public yet. Personally, I would be surprised if both didn’t declare considering Griffin has become the clear #2 quarterback due to Barkley’s absence and Landry Jones’ stock has moved up as well due to the lack of 1st round talent at QB this year outside of Luck, Barkley and Griffin.

Now, I like the decision Barkley has made, but it’s not a perfect one. He is opening himself up to a lot of risk. He could get injured, he could have a down season, and even if neither one happens he is opening himself up to a boatload of nit-picking criticism because media pundits and draft evaluators have an extra year to evaluate him to try to figure out every aspect of his game. I think the decision makes a lot of sense, but the attention he will have on him may end up being comparable to what Luck endured this season. He isn’t quite the prospect that Luck is, but he is going to be the consensus #1 pick for the 2013 NFL Draft now. That means a lot of attention for everything he does. I think he is probably ready for that, but it’s still a lot of pressure on a pretty young kid.

I think it will work out for the best though and I think Barkley will help lead USC to the Pac-12 Title Game and a possible Rose Bowl berth. I’m not sure I’d bet on them for the National Championship game, but anything is possible. Regardless of how USC finishes the season it would be foolish to bet against them going to a bowl game for the first time since Barkley’s freshman year considering all the talent they are returning. I for one can’t wait to see them play next year.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the finalists…

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

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

And the winner is…

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

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

–Tom

My First Mock Draft of the Year

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

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

–Tom