Tag Archive: Montee Ball


These prospects aren’t necessarily my top ranked guys or players that are going to go in the first round, but they are guys that I am 100% sold on and would fight for if I was in a NFL Draft War Room. Enjoy.

QBs:

Geno Smith, West Virginia
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

Honorable mentions: Ryan Nassib, Syracuse, Ryan Griffin, Tulane

Analysis: I have been fairly outspoken about not being a fan of this quarterback class. That’s not to say there won’t be solid starters that come out of this class, there will, but I’m not comfortable tying my reputation to many of these quarterbacks and even the guys that I like have flaws. Geno Smith and Tyler Wilson have been my top 2 guys for months and that’s not going to change. I think Wilson is going to be a very good value if he’s there on day 2 and whoever gets him is going to get a very good, tough leader who may not be a pro bowler but is a guy you can win with. Geno Smith has been completely overanalyzed by this point, but I don’t think he’s a “franchise” guy, but definitely has pro bowl upside. That’s worth a 1st round pick to me. He’s the #14 player on my overall big board. As for Nassib, he’s been my #3 QB for a long time as well and while his NFL success will be tied more to a good scheme fit than I think Smith and Wilson will I think that he’s going to be a quality starter as well. This is particularly true if he goes to a team with an entrenched veteran QB who can show him the ropes and give him time to develop. Like most of the QB’s in this class I don’t think he is ready to jump in and run the show from the start. And finally there is Ryan Griffin from Tulane who I wish I could have seen more of, but everything I saw of him was very intriguing. He’s going to be an early day 3 pick in my opinion and I really like his developmental upside. Should be a good #2 at least, potentially a solid starter. I’d roll the dice on him in round 4 or 5.

RBs:

Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
Dennis Johnson, Arkansas
Benny Cunningham, Middle Tennessee State

Honorable mention: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Analysis: Franklin is my #2 running back in this class, Bernard is my #3, and Johnson is my #5. Franklin and Bernard have both been discussed an awful lot, I think they are both quality backs and will be effective NFL starters. Dennis Johnson is one player that I am far higher on than most, and I think he is going to shock a lot of people at the next level. When I watch him I see a young Michael Turner who can contribute on special teams as an effective kick returner. He’s a complete back and he is my early pick for the steal of the draft. Benny Cunningham is a late addition to this post, but I am extremely intrigued by him. He just ran a 4.51 at his pro day months after a season ending knee injury and if he comes back 100% I think he is going to be a steal on day 3. He absolutely has starter running back upside and if he gets his chance I think he will surprise people. Last but not least I couldn’t leave Montee Ball off this list. I’ve watched him live too many times at Camp Randall Stadium and despite his heavy college workload I think he is being underrated. He’s a quality back and he can likely be had in the 3rd or 4th round.

WRs

Keenan Allen, California
Robert Woods, USC
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Conner Vernon, Duke

Analysis: Allen has been my #1 WR since October and I haven’t wavered on that despite his knee injury, testing positive for marijuana at the combine or not being able to perform fully at Cal’s pro day. Maybe that makes me stubborn, but I’ve been watching him since he was a freshman and I’ve been convinced for three years that he has #1 WR upside at the next level, so why should I change my mind now? The tape screams NFL #1 to me, so that’s what I’m trusting. Robert Woods was initially my 1a to Keenan Allen but his injuries concerned me a bit and he dropped down on my rankings, but he is at worst a terrific #2 in the NFL and is back at #2 in my rankings. I wish I could hear more about his ankle to see if he was going to be 100% at the next level, but he’s a 1st round pick in my opinion and will be a very effective NFL receiver. Hopkins has been my #2 for a while but thanks to some possible character concerns I’ve dropped him down to #4, but I am still a big fan on tape. He should be a 1st round pick in my opinion, but if he drops to the 2nd round some team could get a nice value with him. And finally Conner Vernon is the last player I’ll “bang the table” for at the wide receiver position. In a class absolutely stacked with talent I wanted to add a late round guy who I think is worth fighting for. He may not be the biggest or the fastest, but Vernon just always seems to be open and he has very good hands. He’s not going to be a pro bowler, but he’s going to have a 10+ year NFL career in my opinion. Look for him on Day 3.

TEs

Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Justice Cunningham, South Carolina

Analysis: Eifert may feel like a cop out, but he’s been my #1 TE for months now and he’s in my top 10 on my big board (#9) so I’m very confident he is going to be an impact tight end at the next level. Cunningham may seem a bit out of left field, but from the first time I noticed him I just had a gut feeling that he was being completely slept on and I still feel that way. He may not be a stud at the next level, but I’m not sure I’ve even seen anyone project him to get drafted. In a deep, talented tight end class I really think he could surprise and make a roster.

OTs

Eric Fisher, Central Michigan
DJ Fluker (RT/OG), Alabama
Reid Fragel, Ohio State

Analysis: I’ve been a big fan of Fisher since before the Senior Bowl and he was awfully impressive there and I feel confident saying I was one of the first people to say he was on Joeckel’s level (if not better) back in January. Others have since come to a similar conclusion, and while I have Joeckel rated above Fisher on my big board (#2 and #3 respectively) I am convinced Fisher has pro bowl potential at tackle and is worth a high draft pick. Fluker is an interesting prospect and while I think he would underwhelm in pass protection at right tackle I think he is so effective in the run game that he is worth banging the table for if you are a power running team. Not only that, but if he doesn’t pan out at right tackle you can just slide him inside to guard and enjoy pro bowl caliber play for the next 10 years. Reid Fragel is the last tackle I am a really big fan of. He is a developmental guy who needs some technique work and could stand to get stronger, but I think he has the upside to play left tackle and getting a guy like that in rounds 3-5 is something I and many NFL teams will always be interested in. I think he’s going to have a better NFL career than many expect.

OGs

Chance Warmack, Alabama
Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Larry Warford, Kentucky
Hugh Thornton, Illinois

Analysis: Warmack and Cooper go without saying, they are studs and should be quality starters as rookies. Warford is a player some have cooled on, but I really like him as a quality starter at guard and I think he could start as a rookie. He’s short, squatty and not particularly mobile but he’s going to have a long, effective NFL career if you ask me. And finally there is Hugh Thornton, he’s had to overcome a lot of adversity in his life and some teams are reportedly concerned about the anger he has inside of him, but he screams effective NFL starter at guard and call me crazy, but I love the nastiness he plays with. There are some great stories in this NFL Draft, but it’s tough to think of a guy who’s had tougher luck than Thornton. I’m a fan of him on the field, but I’m honestly rooting for him more as a person than I am as a football player.

Cs

Barrett Jones, Alabama

Analysis: This is not my favorite crop of centers, and I’ve been pretty outspoken about Khaled Holmes being a mid-round pick (I gave him a 4th round grade in June) and while Barrett Jones may not be an elite center prospect I think he is too smart and too sound from a technique standpoint to not have a long NFL career as a starting center. He’s not going to dominate at the point of attack, but he’s as tough as they come and he’s going to be the leader of whatever offensive line he gets drafted to.

DEs

Bjoern Werner, Florida State
Tank Carradine, Florida State
Datone Jones, UCLA
Corey Lemonier, Auburn
William Gholston, Michigan State
David Bass, Missouri Western State
Stansly Maponga, TCU

Analysis: Werner, Carradine and Jones are pretty self explanatory. I think Werner has 10+ sack upside and he’s a top 10 player to me, as is Carradine. Jones may not have that same pass rush upside but I think he can be a very versatile player in the NFL, not to mention he is virtually unblockable 1 on 1 when he slides into DT in pass rush situations. Lemonier is a player some don’t like, but I think he has a ton of upside as a pass rusher. He needs some technique work but he’s a guy I think you roll the dice on, coach up and the dividend could be a stud right end if he commits and works hard. Gholston is a player that some don’t like, but I have a feeling that he could surprise some people. Part of that bad rep comes from simply having the same last name as Vernon Gholston, but he has all the size and athleticism you could want and I don’t think he was coached particularly hard at Michigan State because he was such a big time recruit for them. With some NFL coaching and guidance I think he could surprise a lot of people, so I’m definitely willing to bang the table for him. David Bass impressed me a lot at the East-West Shrine Game and I think he has starter upside at defensive end, so on Day 3 he is definitely worth a draft pick to me. And finally Stansly Maponga presents some upside on Day 3 as well. He doesn’t have the height you want, but I think he definitely presents value as a rotational pass rusher and could go earlier than some have him projected.

DTs

Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Jesse Williams, Alabama

Analysis: This is a deep crop of defensive tackles, but I am very high on both of these guys. Richardson has been my #1 DT for a long time and I think he’s going to be an absolute impact player whether he’s in a 4-3 or a 3-4 as a DE. As for Williams I think he is the rarely seen 3 down nose tackle that can be effective versus the run and the pass in a 4-3 scheme. He’s worth a 1st round pick and I think he’s going to have a long, effective NFL career.

OLBs

Sean Porter, Texas A&M
Khaseem Greene, Rutgers
Brandon Magee, Arizona State

Analysis: This may seem like a random group of outside linebackers, but I have been a fan of Porter for two years now and he is a poor-man’s Von Miller to me. He won’t be the dominant player Von is, but I think he can be effective if allowed to rush the passer in a similar capacity. I may be alone in that thinking though. Khaseem Greene is a guy that I think is going to be a good leader and an effective OLB in a 4-3, likely on the weak side. And Magee is a late round sleeper that I think is going to outperform everyone’s expectations for him.

ILBs

Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Kiko Alonso, Oregon

Analysis: Arthur Brown is my favorite 4-3 linebacker in this class and I personally think he is a definite first round draft pick and can play inside or outside in that scheme. Alonso may not be for everyone, but I love the way he plays and I think he is going to be good whether he’s inside in a 3-4 or outside in a 4-3.

CBs

Jamar Taylor, Boise State
Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State
Jordan Poyer, Oregon State
Nickell Robey, USC
Nigel Malone, Kansas State

Analysis: Jamar Taylor and Johnthan Banks are traditionally ranked pretty high by most analysts, at least those that I interact with, and I really think Taylor is worth a 1st round pick. Banks may not have had the workouts that he needed to go in round 1, but he has good ball skills as well as the size and length that is becoming more and more popular to match up with bigger wide receivers. Poyer has been a favorite of mine for years, really since he housed an interception on Matt Barkley when Barkley was a sophomore. He’s a top 40 player on my board and I think he’s going to be a good corner in the NFL. Robey and Malone are two other players I think I am a lot higher on than most. Robey is a top 100 player in my book despite his obvious lack of size. He’s an absolute playmaker and I think you can never have too many of those at corner. Malone is undersized and doesn’t have elite athleticism, but he’s going to stick on a NFL roster, likely as a nickel or dime guy, and make plays on the ball when he’s on the field. I’ll take guys who can play the ball like Malone on my roster any day, especially late in the draft.

Safeties

Kenny Vacarro, Texas
Jonathan Cyprien, FIU
DJ Swearinger, South Carolina
Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Duke Williams, Nevada

Analysis: Vacarro is at the top of plenty of safety rankings and I think he’s going to be a very good safety at the next level, and I feel the same about Cyprien. I was really impressed with what I saw from him when I watched him on tape and live. Swearinger was a popular name for a while but has cooled lately, but I’m still a big fan of his. If he’s there in the 3rd round I’d jump all over him. Rambo has some questions surrounding him but he strikes me as an absolute ballhawk and those aren’t as easy to find at the safety position as it may seem. I’d also jump all over him in round 3. And finally Duke Williams, a guy I’ve been rooting for since I saw him LAY someone out in a bowl game a couple years ago, should go sometime on Day 3 and I think he has legitimate starter upside.

Size: Montee Ball doesn’t have elite size, but he’s not a small back. At 5’10”, 214 pounds he may not be huge but he does have strong legs, exhibits the strength to stiff arm, and has shown he can run through contact, drive his legs and gain extra yards. Ball definitely has NFL running back size.

Speed: I knew Ball didn’t have elite speed, but timing at 4.66 in the 40 at the combine exhibited some of my concerns about his straight line speed. He ran a much faster time at his pro day (4.46) but that discrepancy is pretty significant. In reality I think he’s a 4.5-4.55 guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it just means he’s not an overly explosive home-run threat. I don’t think he has the speed to get the edge whenever he wants at the next level, and that limits some of his upside. However, I certainly don’t think he’s slow and watching him for the past three years I’m confident in that evaluation.

Quickness: A couple years ago I might have given Ball a poor grade in this area, but even if he doesn’t have great quickness today he has substantially more burst and agility than he did before he dropped a lot of weight prior to his junior season. He looked like a completely different back, and I think that is worth noting in an evaluation. Do I think he has elite quickness? No, but I think he has good enough quickness to be an effective NFL back, and he has more elusiveness than some give him credit for. He has shiftiness to him that helps get defenders off balance and he has pretty good acceleration. Once again, this isn’t an elite attribute, but it’s good enough to be a NFL starter at running back in my opinion.

Running Inside: This is where the majority of Ball’s value lies in my opinion. He has an abundance of experience running between the tackles at Wisconsin and I believe that is where his best running will come at the next level as well. He runs patiently, sets up his blockers well, and decisively hits the hole when he finds one. He knows when to just make sure he gets the first down and when to look for additional yardage, he runs through arm tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage effectively, and while he isn’t elite at making defenders miss in close quarters to turn a negative play into a positive one he can provide that at times. Ball’s great balance is regularly on display on runs up the middle as he is able to sustain contact and stay up, run through arm tackles, and spin off of tacklers for additional yardage.

Running Outside: As expected, this is one area where I think Ball is going to be restricted at the next level. He doesn’t have the pure speed to outrun NFL caliber defenders to the corner and will likely be forced to look for cut-back lanes to gain what yardage he can on outside runs. His quickness and vision will help him do an adequate job of that, but at the end of the day running Ball on tosses and asking him to outrun linebackers and safeties to the corner isn’t playing to his strengths.

Receiving: Ball has proven to be a very capable receiver out of the backfield and I think he will be able to step in and contribute immediately in this phase of the game. He isn’t a great route runner and he doesn’t thrive on making contested catches in traffic, but he showed what he can do when he had Russell Wilson at quarterback his junior year. Ball caught 24 passes for 306 yards and 6 touchdowns that year, so despite only catching 10 passes for 72 yards this year it is evident that he can contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. Once again he is not elite in this area, but he is absolutely serviceable.

Blocking: Coming into the year I was giving Ball a lot of credit for being a good pass blocker that was very well rounded in every phase of the game but he underwhelmed me as a pass blocker this year. I definitely think that the effort and “want to” is there, but there were absolutely times when he made a mental mistake that resulted in a pressure or when he simply struggled with technique that ended with a similar result. I think he will improve in this area with NFL coaching, but right now I’m not as sold on him as a pass blocking back as I was coming into his senior year.

Vision: I think this is one of Ball’s strongest assets and it’s what makes me confident that he will have a successful NFL career despite lacking elite athleticism. Ball benefited from having a good offensive line during his sophomore and junior seasons, but the offensive line was very bad at the beginning of this season and his yardage totals suffered as a result. However, as the line gelled and the passing game opened up a bit once Joel Stave was inserted into the starting lineup Ball had some more room to run and “shockingly” his numbers improved. I believe Ball’s vision is very good, he runs patiently, uses his blockers well to gain additional yardage, and finds cutback lanes effectively enough to be a fit in a zone scheme if he was drafted into one.

Ball Security: This is another area where Ball is excellent. He fumbled a couple times as a senior year but before that he did a fantastic job of protecting the ball and avoiding fumbles. That has a lot to do with him carrying the ball exactly the way you’re taught: three points of pressure, high and tight and he doesn’t wave the ball away from his body when he is fighting for extra yardage. One of his only fumbles I’ve ever seen was when he was diving over the pile against Ohio State this season. Had Ryan Shazier not made an amazing play to meet him at the goal line and jar the ball out of his hands it may have been yet another touchdown instead of a game-changing turnover.

Overall: I have been a Montee Ball fan for years, and watching him transition from a 235+ pound power back with limited agility and burst to a 5’10”, 215 pound workhorse has been extremely fun to watch. One of the big questions regarding Ball is the sheer amount of work he has gotten since arriving at Wisconsin, and given the wear and tear a running back takes that is very legitimate. However, Ball has rarely missed time with injuries since arriving at Wisconsin, and if he is cleared medically regarding the concussions he sustained within the last year then I won’t worry about him from an injury or durability standpoint at all. The concussions are concerning, as is the way he sustained one of them (being assaulted in Madison by a group of people), but I don’t think they will cause him to fall down draft boards. As I mentioned above I believe that Ball’s pass protection will improve with NFL caliber coaching, and once it does he will be a very well-rounded running back. He will be an effective runner with quality vision, an effective receiver with above-average hands, and an effective pass protector. He won’t ever be a home-run threat every time he gets a carry, but he will be an effective starting caliber back at the next level and barring injury I think he will provide a NFL team with 7-8 years of quality service as a starter. I don’t think he has a shot to go round 1, but I have a 2nd-3rd round grade on him personally. He’s not a star, but he is definitely a NFL caliber starter in my opinion.

Projection: 3rd round. I wouldn’t be angry if my team picked Ball in round 2, but I think given his heavy college workload, his recent history of concussions and his lack of elite athleticism that round 3 is where he is most likely to come off the board. Anyone who gets him in round 4 or later is getting a nice value.

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

Today I am previewing the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers have had a fantastic run since Bret Bielema took over, particularly in the last two years, going to consecutive Rose Bowls. That’s relatively unheard of, and even though they lost both in close games it still means the Badgers are a program on the rise and that they aren’t just a big, slow team that can’t hang with East or West Coast speed. I do want to mention that while Bielema has done a good job leading the Badgers into a new era after legendary Head Coach Barry Alvarez became the athletic director, I am not quite convinced he’s the best in-game coach. Specifically, I’m talking about timeout usage. I could go on a huge rant about this, specifically relating to Bielema, but the man simply doesn’t use his timeouts effectively. Take Wisconsin’s last second loss on a hail-mary to Michigan State last season. The Spartans were content to play for OT and were going to run the clock out but Bielema got cocky and called a timeout. That led the Spartans to get aggressive and roll the dice, and we all know what happened when they did. I was so shocked by the result that I actually wrote this after the game. Fast forward to the Rose Bowl against Oregon, when a wasted timeout early in the 2nd half (this is a vast oversimplification, I just don’t want to write 4,000 words about this) left Russell Wilson without a way to stop the clock other than spiking it with under 10 seconds to go, meaning he and the Badgers didn’t have a chance for one last play to score a touchdown and win the game. I’m sure some don’t think Bielema is a bad clock manager, but those two examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Bielema and his timeouts. I’ve actually never seen or heard of a head coach who uses them more poorly and sees his team suffer more for it as a result.

Anyways, Bielema sure has done a good job as a recruiter and that was evidenced by convincing Russell Wilson to transfer to the land of the cheese and he did it again with Danny O’Brien. I’m sure I’ll say this 1,000 times by the end of next season, but Badger fans please listen to me: Danny O’Brien is NOT Russell Wilson. I still believe he is a good quarterback, but like I said before last season Russell Wilson was special, and the Badgers won’t have another quarterback that good for a long time (if ever). O’Brien is officially the starter and has the unenviable job of replacing Wilson, who became a Wisconsin legend about as soon as he stepped on campus. O’Brien has the talent to keep defenses from keeping 8 defenders in the box because he will be able to make them pay thanks to Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen catching balls from him. The offensive line at Wisconsin is always impressive, and despite losing three starters they will be good again this season.

My concern, much like it was last year, is with the defense. The Badgers’ defense last year was very average, if not poor, and was really held together by Chris Borland, Mike Taylor, Antonio Fenelus and to some degree Aaron Henry. This year it looks like the Badgers will have some more talent in the front 7, particularly along the defensive line, which would be a HUGE relief for any Badger fan. If the defensive line, particularly the defensive tackles, can occupy blockers better and contribute a bit to the pass rush then Wisconsin’s stellar linebacker tandem will be able to make a lot of plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. But beyond that, if the pass rush improves considerably it will make life a lot easier on Wisconsin’s weakest link- The defensive secondary. They are returning only ONE player with an interception from last season, and only two players who are projected to start have an interception in their entire careers. They have some starting experience returning, but it is mostly starting experience spent making mental mistakes, not playing the ball correctly, and generally allowing big plays from opposing offenses. If the secondary can step up, this defense could actually be decent or maybe even pretty good. But if they continue to play like they did last year (or worse, thanks to Fenelus and Henry heading to the NFL) then the Badgers will be in a world of hurt without Russell Wilson and a quick-strike offense to compensate. Thanks to Ohio State and Penn State being ineligible for the conference championship game you’d have to be brain dead not to think Wisconsin is the favorite, but Michigan State is reloading better than I thought they would, and Michigan figures to be jockeying with Nebraska for the top spot in the Legends division (seriously, Leaders and Legends is still the stupidest thing ever) and all three teams will be able to give Wisconsin a run for their money as the Badgers try to get to an unheard of third straight Rose Bowl. And with that, here are  the prospects to keep an eye on for the 2012 season:

O’Brien has a chance to lead Wisconsin to a third consecutive Rose Bowl. He won’t be able to do what Russell Wilson did, but he can still be a quality quarterback thanks to his experience and preference for a pro-style offense.

Danny O’Brien, QB*- I watched O’Brien a fair amount as a freshman and got a chance to see two games of him as a sophomore and I didn’t see the same quarterback. I don’t think it was simply a fluke season as a freshman or a sophomore slump the next year, I think that he is a pro-style quarterback who was miscast in a spread offense as a sophomore. His freshman year he looked more decisive, comfortable and accurate. You could tell he was confident and believed that he was “the guy” when he was playing, and as a result he made plays and won games. Then they fired his HC, brought in a spread offense offensive coordinator, and tried to force a square peg into a round hole. O’Brien never looked comfortable running that offense, particularly the zone read aspect. I never saw him keep it on the zone read once, and that’s because he’s a pass first QB, not a scrambler. Defenses figured that out, and even on plays where the read would dictate pulling it and running with it O’Brien would hand it off for a limited gain. He just wasn’t a good fit for that offense, particularly from that aspect. But luckily for O’Brien, he graduated in just three years and was eligible to transfer out without having to sit for a season before playing again. That led to him being pursued by Wisconsin and Penn State very seriously, and many actually speculated that he would be going to Penn State when he took another late visit to them and was seen wearing Penn State apparel on campus. He chose the Badgers in the end, and it’s hard to say that he made the wrong decision considering all the damage that has been done to Penn State’s program. I think it’s safe to say he is happy that he decided to go to Wisconsin, and now he has a chance to start for two more seasons before heading into the NFL Draft. O’Brien isn’t a giant by any means, being listed at 6’3”, 215, but he sure makes Russell Wilson look short. O’Brien is likely only 6’2”, but that still makes him a legitimate three inches taller than the superstar signal caller that led Wisconsin back to a second consecutive Rose Bowl despite arriving just weeks before the start of the season. O’Brien is a good quarterback, but he is not the next Russell Wilson. Make no mistake about it, O’Brien is still developing as a quarterback. Wilson transferred to Wisconsin as a polished passer who probably could have left for the NFL Draft if he wanted to, and he showed what he could do when supported by a quality offensive line and running game. O’Brien was efficient at Maryland as a freshman, but the new offense and lack of quality weapons (including the loss of his go-to receiver Torrey Smith) outside of Davin Meggett certainly played a role in his down season last year. That and the fact that Maryland flip flopped between O’Brien and CJ Brown, a scrambler/option quarterback, for most of the season.

Now O’Brien has been established as the starting quarterback and he will have plenty of pieces around him to succeed. He has returning Heisman finalist Montee Ball, the speedster James White, future stud RB Melvin Gordon at running back, plus Jared Abbrederis, and Jacob Pedersen for him to throw to. When I watched O’Brien as a freshman I saw an accurate quarterback with pocket poise, the ability to throw accurately on the move (particularly to his right, as he is right-handed) and enough velocity to be a NFL starter. He doesn’t have a cannon, and his deep balls tend to have plenty of air under them, but I’ve watched him make an all-arm throw from the middle of the field to the left sideline with plenty of velocity, and that was during his sophomore season. He doesn’t have Russell Wilson’s arm, but I think it’s good enough to get a shot in the NFL. The most interesting aspect of this transfer, at least in my opinion, will be seeing how much more comfortable O’Brien will be in a pro-style offense than he was in the spread offense he was running last year. The Badgers offense has a lot of similarities schematically to the pro-style offense he was running at Maryland as a freshman, just different terminology I’m sure (as well as a bit more of an emphasis on feeding the quality ball-carriers the Badgers have in their backfield). That should help ease the transition for him, plus they have a cupcake schedule before opening Big-10 conference play with Nebraska in week 5. The first four weeks they will play Northern Iowa, at Oregon State, Utah State and UTEP. Not exactly a rough schedule, so the Badgers should be 4-0 heading to Nebraska for a big away game. He will be under a lot of pressure to be the next Russell Wilson, but O’Brien will realize that a lot of the pressure that he felt at Maryland will melt away thanks to the amazing running game the Badgers will have again this season. That offensive line doesn’t rebuild, it only reloads, so despite losing three starters (including two 1st round caliber interior linemen, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) they will continue to pound the rock at an impressive clip, especially since they have a quarterback who can make defenses pay when they load up the box against their stable of running backs. I’m very intrigued by O’Brien, and I am eager to see him return to his freshman form with his second chance at Wisconsin.

Montee Ball, RB- What is there to say about Montee Ball that hasn’t been said. He is one of the most NFL ready backs in college football, and really the only question marks people have about him are whether or not he plays behind “too good” of an offensive line so that he doesn’t really have vision or the more legitimate concern about his substantial workload at Wisconsin. Ball is listed at 5’11”, 212 and likely has 4.5 speed, but since he slimmed down before his junior season he has had substantially more burst. I thought he might have been carrying too much weight, and he always ran at one speed as a sophomore. But he was a different back, and a better one, as a junior, and it showed as he was a Heisman finalist and rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns while catching 24 passes for 306 yards and 6 more touchdowns (he also threw 2 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown, giving him 40 total touchdowns on the season). He has the size, the athleticism, the burst, enough speed to gain chunks of yardage, the vision, the hands out of the backfield and the ability in pass protection to be a starting NFL running back right now. That’s why I thought he should declare after his Heisman caliber season last year and start getting paid for carrying the ball 300 times a year. Instead, he chose to come back, and he will certainly raise question marks about all the tread on his tires thanks to the way Wisconsin likes to run the ball. That’s really the only question mark about him in my opinion though, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t have 7-8 years of productive NFL running once he leaves Wisconsin after this season. He’s got everything you could want in a running back outside of 4.35 straight line speed.

James White, RB*- James White is a peculiar player. He looked absolutely unreal as a freshman playing behind Montee Ball once John Clay went down with an injury, rushing for 1,052 yards on 156 carries (6.74 ypc) and 14 touchdowns while adding 11 receptions for 88 more yards. I thought the Badgers were going to have the best running back tandem in the country last year, but White encountered a bit of a sophomore slump and rushed for only 713 yards on 141 carries, good for a 5.06 ypc average, and 6 touchdowns while adding 10 receptions and 150 yards out of the backfield. Those are still solid numbers, particularly since he was backing up a Heisman contender, but he didn’t look like the same back at all to me. He didn’t seem as decisive, as explosive and as dynamic as he did as a freshman. I have questions about his vision and while he has plenty of speed, burst and explosiveness, I am waiting to see the freshman version of James White. He and Danny O’Brien are in similar boats, trying to recapture their freshman glory heading into their junior seasons. I don’t know if White will ever recapture that dynamic freshman year version of himself, but I really hope he does. I would draft that kid, but I’m not so sure I would draft the back I saw as a sophomore.

Melvin Gordon is going to be the next feature back at Wisconsin, go ahead and put me on record.

Melvin Gordon, RB**- Gordon is only a redshirt freshman this year, but I think he is going to be the next great Wisconsin running back. He only got 20 carries and rushed for 98 yards and 1 touchdown last season, but was given a redshirt after playing in only three games. Due to injuries more than anything else, he was given a chance to be the feature back in Wisconsin’s spring game and he carried the ball 30 times for 159 yards and a touchdown, surpassing the statistics he amassed in three games last year. Gordon is buried on the depth chart behind Ball, who will get the lions’ share of the carries, and White, who provides some speed that Ball and Gordon can’t quite provide, but Gordon has feature back written all over him at 6’1, 200 pounds. I can’t wait to see more of him this year, because the little that I have been able to see of him has been awfully impressive. He likely won’t get more than 100 carries this year (even that would be considerable, but it would be nice to see him get touches to help keep Montee fresh) but when he does get touches I expect him to impress.

Jared Abbrederis, WR*- Abbrederis is a kid you just can’t help but root for. He emerged originally as a walk-on freshman, catching 20 passes for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns while also contributing a bit as a kick returner and punt returner. Then his role expanded even more as a sophomore with the arrival of Russell Wilson, and the 6’2”, 180 pound receiver hauled in 55 receptions for 933 yards and 8 touchdowns. He expanded his role as a return man, showcasing his shiftiness and ability to make defenders miss on the way to accumulating 315 yards and a touchdown on only 20 punt returns (15.75 average per return) as well as accounting for 689 kick return yards on 28 kick returns (24.61 average). That led to him signing his scholarship offer last January, which I was very happy to see. You love to see hard-working kids rewarded for their efforts, and not many have worked harder than Abbrederis. He may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he is a quality football player who has been a reliable target for the Badgers. He had a very unfortunate fumble in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon late in the game, and his mistimed jump on the Michigan State hail mary helped contribute to Wisconsin’s first loss of the season. Despite those two mistakes that were magnified because of the stages on which they occurred, I am a big fan of Abbrederis. He runs solid routes, catches the ball well with his hands and uses his long arms effectively, and makes plenty of defenders miss once he has the ball in his hands. Not only that, but even as a freshman he was subbed into the game instead of Nick Toon, who was a junior at the time, when they needed a receiver to block effectively. That says a lot about his effort level and his commitment to fundamentals, and even though he isn’t a huge receiver he takes his blocking seriously. He’s a pretty complete receiver who should continue to win talent evaluators over for the next two years as a Badger.

Jacob Pedersen, TE/H-Back*- Before Pedersen even became the starter I proclaimed that he would be the “next Lance Kendricks” meaning he would be a good blocker from the H-Back spot and also the primary receiving tight end. Despite only having 8 receptions as a freshman, I saw enough to project him as a quality passing option. He proved me right by catching 30 passes for 356 yards and 8 touchdowns despite only being a sophomore. At 6’4”, 240 pounds he is not big enough to play inline every down in the NFL, or even in the Big-10 really. He’s a good blocker for his size, much like Kendricks was, but he’s more of an H-Back/receiving tight end than an extension of the offensive line like the great blocking tight ends are. I have a feeling Danny O’Brien will be very happy to have Pedersen as a security blanket, I know Russell Wilson was.

Ricky Wagner, OT- Wagner is an offensive tackle I’ve been talking up since Gabe Carimi was still playing on the Badgers a couple years ago. I don’t think he’s going to be a left tackle in the NFL, but I was impressed with him when I watched him a couple years ago and I liked some of what I saw of him on the left side as well. He’s not a great pass blocker, but he’s reliable and good enough to play on the right side at the next level in my opinion. The problem I have with Wagner is that even though he is listed at 6’6”, 322 pounds and he plays offensive tackle for Wisconsin, he’s not a typical road grader that you would like at right tackle. His run blocking is fine for a left tackle, but he’s not a good enough pass blocker to stick on the left side at the next level. He’s kind of a man without a home, not being a good enough pass blocker to stick on the left and not a good enough run blocker to be a great fit on the right. I am interested to see how he looks this year, as I’m hoping he will have improved in one aspect or the other (or if we’re lucky, both!) to provide some clarity about which position he projects best to in the NFL. Otherwise he might be a bit of a swing tackle that is never much more than a solid/reliable starter at either spot. I like him, but he’s not a 1st round pick at this point in my opinion.

Frederick doesn’t have a ton of game experience at center (just four starts) but his combination of size, strength, and football IQ is going to make him a possible 1st round draft pick at the position.

Travis Frederick, C/OG*- Frederick is a mauler in the trenches and will be moving inside to Center full time this season despite having only four career starts at the position in his first two years with the Badgers. At 6’4”, 328 pounds he is an absolute behemoth for a center, and will give the Badgers a huge advantage in the run game despite losing a great center in Peter Konz who I had graded as a first rounder. Frederick has received a lot of praise from coaches and media alike for his football IQ, and that is critical for any offensive lineman moving inside to center. The fact that he happens to have great size for an offensive guard, and the fact that he was a very good left guard last season, only means that by moving inside to center he gives the Badgers another year (or maybe two if they are lucky) of having what I call “three guards” inside. By that I mean, often times centers are very smart players with sound technique, but they are often in the 6’2”-6’3”, 300 pound mold and not particularly physically imposing. But when you have a 6’3”+ center who weighs 310+ and most importantly PLAYS as big as he is you have an advantage. Instead of having two guards and a center who can’t drive block one on one or block a defensive tackle one on one in pass protection, you theoretically have three guards who can drive a man off the ball when matched up in man blocking schemes and that really helps you generate push in the run game and dominate opponents with power man blocking. Frederick gives the Badgers a chance to do this again, and I for one can’t wait to see how he does. Centers with his skill set often go in the first round because it is so rare to find a center who can snap well, make line calls and also be big, strong and physical enough to generate push in the run game 1 on 1. That’s why centers like Nick Mangold, Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Pouncey went in the 1st round and why Peter Konz would have had he not had injury questions surrounding him. Centers that big and talented are rare and are extremely valuable commodities. The fact that Frederick combines his size, strength and technique with a high football IQ means he has the chance to be the next first round center either this year or next.

Ryan Groy, OG*- Groy is the 6’5”, 322 pounder replacing Frederick at left guard and while he only has 6 career starts (including two at FULLBACK) he played in all 14 games last year and if you know anything about the Wisconsin football program you know they churn out road grading offensive lineman like a Hershey’s factory churns out chocolate. I haven’t scouted Groy specifically, but think about the left side of Wisconsin’s offensive line: LT- Wagner, 6’6”, 322 pounds LG- Groy, 6’5”, 322 pounds C- Frederick, 6’4”, 328 pounds. You think Wisconsin is planning on running to the left at all this year?

Brendan Kelly, DE- Kelly is a player that before last year I never thought I might include his name in one of these prospect previews. He is a 6’6”, 250 pound defensive end who played high school football in Eden Prairie (which is about 10 minutes away from where I am currently writing this, and also was a rival team of Edina high school where I happened to go) before choosing to go to Wisconsin to play college football. He has been through a myriad of injuries and has rarely been on the field unfortunately. He sustained a serious groin injury as a freshman but attempted to play through it before realizing that he had torn four muscles off of his pelvis, and missed the final conference game the Badgers played that season. When he attempted to come back during fall camp the next year he aggravated the injury, leading to additional surgery and time on the sidelines. He had three total surgeries on his groin, he has missed time with a hand injury, and missed some time in the spring with a hamstring tweak. None of it fazed him though, as he continued to support his teammates, lift what he could lift, watch film, and continue to demonstrate an intense passion for the game of football. He has fought through a lot of adversity to remain on this team, much less play, and I find myself rooting for him to stay healthy this year and show what he can do. He played in all 14 games last season as a junior, and totaled 35 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 pass break-up and 2 forced fumbles. It wasn’t as if he got those sacks against bottom feeders either. His three sacks were in three different games, coming against Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. He started the final 8 games, his first coming against the Cornhuskers. The Badgers will use a rotation along the defensive line, but Kelly is expected to get a lot of snaps. He also has the potential to petition for a 6th year of eligibility thanks to losing almost three full years of his career due to hand and groin injuries. We’ll see if he gets that, but I am looking forward to seeing if he can help Gilbert boost the Badgers’ pass rush this season. They could really use it.

David Gilbert, DE*- Gilbert flashed some potential to me as a sophomore because the 6’4”, 250 pound defensive end showed an impressive get-off as well as burst and speed to get the edge. He’s an impressive looking athlete, and he had 3 sacks in Wisconsin’s first four games last year (though they played UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois and South Dakota in the first four weeks, with Gilbert getting a sack in each game except for the NIU game). However, he sustained a serious foot injury and was granted a medical redshirt to preserve his junior year of eligibility. He’s very strong, and he has all the physical tools you could want to be an effective defensive end. I want to see him play smarter, improve his technique and prove that he’s more than just an edge rusher with a bit of a bull rush. If he improves his technique and continues to improve his craft as a defensive end he could get 8-10 sacks this year or the next and boy do the Badgers need a pass rusher. They have really missed the pressure J.J. Watt put on passers.

I honestly believe that Beau Allen could be the best defensive tackle the Badgers have had in years.

Beau Allen, DT*- I haven’t scouted Allen specifically, but the 6’3”, 323 pound defensive tackle gives the Badgers some much needed size in the middle of the defense. As a sophomore he had 22 tackles, 4 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss despite not starting a single game because he was playing behind Patrick Butrym. I was never a Butrym fan, so I am interested to see if Allen can be a superior talent. Wisconsin fields three undersized tackling machines at linebacker, so they need their defensive tackles to occupy blockers and allow them to fly around and make plays without being reached by offensive linemen. If Allen can keep his linebackers clean and also apply pressure on the passer like he did in a rotational role last year he is going to get a lot of attention from scouts. I can’t remember the last time the Badgers had a quality pass rusher at defensive tackle, but I think Allen has a chance to change that. He has already shown signs of being an impact player, such as totaling 3 tackles for loss and a sack in Wisconsin’s 2012 Spring Game.

Ethan Hemer, DT*- Hemer is another big, strong defensive tackle who will be starting at nose tackle I believe. He is listed at 6’6”, 305 pounds and by playing next to Allen I believe he gives the Badgers the biggest defensive tackle starting tandem that they have had in some time. Like I just mentioned, they need big defensive tackles to keep their linebackers clean and I am eager to see if Hemer is up to that challenge. He comes into the season with 20 career starts, including all 14 games last season, and he managed 34 tackles and 1 sack in those 14 starts. I don’t need him to make 100 tackles, 15 sacks and force 5 fumbles (though that would be terrific) but he needs to show that he can hold up against double teams and help clog up running lanes in the middle of the defense. Nose Tackles that can do that are very valuable in the Big-10, and just as valuable in the NFL.

Chris Borland, MLB*- Borland is just a beast, I know that word is overused but it’s true. I remember when I was watching him as a freshman (god that feels like a long time ago) and even though he is probably only 5’10”, 250 pounds (yes, he’s listed at 250 pounds, though he’s also listed at 5’11”) he plays very instinctually, flies to the ball and is a tackling machine. He was second on the team in tackles with 143 tackles, led the team by a wide margin with 16.5 TFL, had 2.5 sacks, 5 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and FIVE forced fumbles. Make no mistake about it, Borland is a man who can stuff a stat sheet and he really has a knack for forcing fumbles. His freshman year in 2009 he only had 54 tackles (36 solo), but he had 10.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 1 pass deflection, 1 interception, a blocked kick and five more forced fumbles! He got a medical redshirt in 2010 and came back at full force as a redshirt sophomore as you all know. He enters his junior year with 28 career tackles for loss, 7.5 career sacks, 3 interceptions and a staggering 10 forced fumbles. He’s undersized and he won’t be able to play middle linebacker in the NFL, but I think he will get a shot to play outside linebacker in the NFL. Maybe it will have to be in a Tampa-2, but he is too instinctual and too good a tackler to not get a NFL shot.

Mike Taylor, OLB- Taylor is taller than Borland at 6’3” but despite being listed four inches taller he weighs 28 pounds less, listed at only 222 pounds. That’s pretty light even for a weak side linebacker, but he produced anyways as he led the team in tackles (which is no easy task playing next to Borland) with 150 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. He’s a senior this season and figures to help Wisconsin have one of the best, if not the best, linebacker tandems in the entire Big-10 conference. If the defensive line can keep him and Borland clean they are going to wreak a lot of havoc on opposing offenses, you can count on it.

Shelton Johnson, SS- There is actually a fair amount of potential in the Badgers’ front 7, more than I expected and more than they have had since they had J.J. Watt leading the charge to the Rose Bowl against the TCU Horned Frogs. The Badgers had a lot of trouble on the back-end last year though, even in spite of having two well established senior starters in Antonio Fenelus and Aaron Henry. Now they have both moved on to the NFL, and Shelton Johnson is the only, yes ONLY, returning defensive back that had an interception last season. He had four of them along with 54 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and four pass break-ups, so I think he has a chance to be a reliable safety in his second season as a starter, but the lack of talent around him is extremely concerning. The only returning defensive back besides Johnson with an interception in his entire career is Devin Smith, who has three, and he sustained a season-ending injury last season that earned him a medical redshirt. Johnson is going to be the best player in this secondary, and if a Smith and Marcus Cromartie don’t step up at corner this pass defense is going to struggle mightily, particularly with big plays. That is, unless the pass rush improves considerably. The defensive secondary will be the kryptonite of this Badger squad, but Johnson has a chance to help stop some of the bleeding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now the finalists…

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

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

And the winner is…

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

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

–Tom

1- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Grade: Top 15 Overall
2- Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin*: Grade: Early 2nd Round
3- Lamar Miller, RB, Miami*: Grade: Early 2nd Round
4- David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech*: Grade: Early 2nd Round
5- LaMichael James, RB, Oregon*: Grade: Early/Mid 2nd round
6- Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple*: Grade: 3rd round
7- Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas*: Grade: 3rd round
8- Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: Grade: 3rd/4th round
9- Robert Turbin, RB, Utah State*: Grade: 3rd/4th round
10- Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State: Grade: 4th round
11- Tauren Poole, RB, Tennessee: Grade: 4th round
12- Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati: Grade: 4th/5th round
13- Brandon Bolden, RB, Mississippi: Grade: 5th round
14- Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: Grade: 5th round
15- Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: Grade: 5th/6th round
16- Jeff Demps, RB, Florida: Grade: 6th round
17- Davin Meggett, RB, Maryland: Grade: 6th round
18- Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky: Grade: 6th/7th round
19- Marc Tyler, RB, Southern Cal: Grade: 7th round
20- Lennon Creer, RB, Louisiana Tech: Grade: 7th round
21- Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
22- Antwon Bailey, RB, Syracuse: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
23- Adonis Thomas, RB, Toledo: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
24- Victor Anderson, RB, Louisville: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
25- Ryan Houston, RB, North Carolina: Grade: UDFA

Wisconsin-Illinois:

-Montee Ball was the man in this game. He had a fantastic game rushing 38 times for 224 yards and 2 TD’s. He also added two receptions for a cumulative total of -1 yards, but he had a 5 yard reception for a touchdown to help bring Wisconsin back early in the 2nd half. I can’t say enough good things about Montee Ball. Last year he looked like he lacked burst, might have been carrying too much weight, and while he was still very effective I didn’t think he was a legitimate NFL prospect. This year he dropped about 25 pounds and the second I saw him touch the ball for the first time this year I immediately said “Wow, Montee looks like a completely different back.” He has so much more burst, so much more speed to finish runs, and hits the hole harder and faster. He still runs the ball hard, he runs through arm tackles with ease, he can run guys over when he puts his head down, and he gains a lot of yardage after contact. He has very reliable hands out of the backfield, and overall strikes me as a very complete back. Will he go in the first round? I’m not sure, but I would definitely put a 2nd round grade on him at this point. He has feature back written all over him in the NFL, and has proven that he can be an every down back because of the emphasis Wisconsin puts on running the ball and working the clock. Montee Ball, it’s time to go pro! I’ll have a scouting report up on him this upcoming week.

-Russell Wilson was not the headliner of this game by any stretch of the imagination. Montee Ball literally carried them, and Wilson was essentially a glorified bystander. He was 10/13 for only 90 yards and 1 touchdown (to Montee Ball) and ran for another touchdown on a naked bootleg at the goal line. Wilson has had much better games, and while he only threw three incompletions two of them were poor throws while he had plenty of room in the pocket to throw. He missed both high, and the second pass was not a clean spiral. Once Wisconsin had taken control of the game he did convert two throws on 3rd downs with ease to extend their drives which should not be overlooked, but I think Wisconsin could have handled Illinois very easily in this game if Wilson had been more of a difference maker in the passing game. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the statistics, but for a while Illinois was doing a solid job of taking Montee Ball away and Wilson wasn’t moving the ball for Wisconsin. Ball and Wisconsin’s offensive line wore Illinois down in the second half, but if that hadn’t happened I don’t know if Wilson could have won this game for Wisconsin today throwing the ball.

AJ Jenkins- Jenkins had an average game with only 4 receptions for 33 yards, but he was impressive. He had a touchdown called back by a very questionable offensive pass interference call on a TE who allegedly “picked” the defender like a basketball player, but in reality he barely touched him as he ran by him (his shoulder nicked Fenelus who was in coverage on the play). Jenkins had created legitimate separation over the middle, caught it cleanly and picked up the rest for a TD only to have it called back. Later on same drive Illinois was inaccurately called for a second “picking” penalty and this was even worse Darius Millines, a wide receiver on Illinois, stopped his route and avoided the defender and may not have actually touched him. Yet, the penalty was still called and another catch and run by Jenkins (this time down inside the five) was negated by a bad call by the refs. Jenkins was matched up with Fenelus the entire game from what I saw, and it was a pretty even battle. Jenkins created separation relatively consistently and if it weren’t for those penalties he would have had about 50-60 yards and potentially a touchdown. I’m a huge Jenkins fan and while I don’t think he’s a 1st or 2nd rounder because I don’t think he has great deep speed he strikes me as a nice #2 or slot receiver in the NFL because of his good hands, willingness to go over the middle, ability to make catches in traffic, and because he can make defenders miss in the open field to pick up yards after the catch.

-Antonio Fenelus had a very good game today. He was matched up on AJ Jenkins all game and while Jenkins did make some plays and create separation against him Fenelus held his own in coverage. Overall he had pretty good coverage on deep throws, he used the sideline well as a defender, but he did get beat deep on at least one play when Jenkins had separation down the middle but O’Toole’s pass was underthrown in the face of the wind. As a result, Fenelus recovered and made a great diving interception on the play. Fenelus had another shot at an interception but it went right through his hands, was tipped around and eventually intercepted by Aaron Henry. I’ve liked Fenelus since I watched him last year and personally feel that he is underrated. He’s not an elite corner prospect, but I think he has NFL ability and is worth mid-round consideration.

-Jeff Allen is the left tackle on Illinois. He has a lot of starting experience with over 30 career starts under his belt, and might actually be a four year starter. I’m not sold on him sticking at LT in the NFL, but I think his upside might be as a right tackle in a zone blocking scheme. He’s pretty agile for his size (listed at 6’5″, 315 pounds) and gets off the ball effectively, especially in the running game. I haven’t seen him much so I don’t know how well he cuts, but he is not a drive blocker so putting him in a man blocking scheme that relies on driving defenders off the ball is not where his upside lies. He does seal well and positions himself effectively to create running lanes for Illinois’ running backs, but I don’t think he has as much upside in a man scheme as he does in a zone scheme. He had a solid game against Whitney Mercilus because he didn’t have as many issues with him attempting to speed rush, but he struggles with speed and I don’t think he has the lateral agility and kick slide to mirror elite NFL pass rushers. I think he could be a solid/quality RT, but is a potential back-up LT that could play there in a pinch. That gives him some value, but I still grade him as a 4th round guy right now. If he has to move to RT his inability to move defenders off the ball in the run game hurts his value if he is forced to move there.

-This was the first game I have gotten to see Whitney Mercilus in since he has caught fire and garnered significant National attention. He’s a legitimate prospect, but I think he has to stick at LE in the NFL. He doesn’t have the edge speed to stick at RE in my opinion. He’s a strong guy with a lot of potential, but it was hard to evaluate him as a pass rusher when Russell Wilson only threw the ball 13 times and Montee Ball had 38 carries for 224 yards. I like his potential, but I need to see more. He had 17.5 TFL and 12.5 sacks coming into the game today, so I just need tos ee more of him.

-Michael Buchanan is another one of Illinois’ talented defensive linemen. He was on my list of potential break-out players before the season began and has produced 11.0 TFL, 6.0 sacks and 1 forced fumble on the year (before the Wisconsin game). He’s got great speed off the edge, but he needs to get stronger and add weight to stand up better against the run. He’s got potential, but still needs developing and coaching.

-Illinois middle linebacker Jonathan Brown may only be a sophomore but he is a star. Before today’s game he had 78 total tackles (only 29 solo), 14.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 4 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble and an interception. He has great instincts, he fills well, he flows to the ball well, and he just makes plays. I’m a huge fan and he is definitely someone to keep an eye on. He showed up often today as he always does.

-Ian Thomas is an underrated linebacker in my opinion. He’s only 6’1″, 235 pounds but he was filling very well when he had the opportunity to against Wisconsin. Is he a top 100 guy? No, but he’s a quality tackler with 64 tackles (23 solo), 8.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks so far this year. He’s got draftable ability in my opinion, but no one is talking about him. I think he will at worst get picked up as a UDFA and make a roster because of his potential contributions on special teams.

Yale-Harvard:

-Patrick Witt was the only reason I watched some of this game, and while I think he has some arm talent and accuracy I was not overly impressed. He stared down his receivers regularly, didn’t make very good decisions and ended up with two interceptions before I tuned back in to the Wisconsin-Illinois game. He has enough ability to be brought on as a UDFA, but I’m not sure he has draftable talent beyond late round consideration right now. He could make himself some money with a quality performance in a post-season game like the East-West Shrine Game though.

Michigan-Nebraska:

-Alfonzo Dennard didn’t seem to have a very good game against Michigan. I didn’t see much of the game, but when I watched I was not very impressed. I like him, but he hasn’t been helping his stock a lot in recent weeks.

-David Molk may be my #1 senior center in this class. He’s not very big, but he’s very mobile, has tons of starting experience, and is overall very reliable. He won’t be able to block a DT one on one in the NFL very often, but he’s intelligent and should have a very long NFL career. Not a 1st round pick, but definitely warrants 2nd-3rd round consideration.

-Denard Robinson should just move to slot receiver. I know Michigan won this game, but he could be such a dynamic receiver in the slot and that is the only position he has a NFL future at. Just bite the bullet Michigan!

I focused on the Illinois-Wisconsin game, but I had a few notes on the other prospects as well. Enjoy the rest of the games tonight!

–Tom

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

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

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

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

This is where things got crazy.

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

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

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

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

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

Wisconsin-UNLV Breakdown

Wisconsin-UNLV Breakdown:

Obviously Wisconsin was in control of this game from start to finish, as they scored within the first three minutes of the game with a powerful running game and a dangerous play action fake. The thing that stuck out to me more than anything else was Montee Ball’s overall speed/quickness. He looked much more explosive, much quicker and displayed significantly more burst than he ever did last season. That was fantastic to see from a scouting perspective. The announcers drove the point home that he lost about 28 pounds this offseason, so obviously he is in pretty incredible shape and is moving much better as he is carrying less weight. That means Wisconsin’s backfield is going to be terrifying because James White continued to look excellent as expected (he still reminds me a lot of Warrick Dunn) and Melvin Gordon looked effective as a possible #3 back.

Obviously Russell Wilson was a player you have to key on because of his ability to sling the football all over the field as well as his athleticism, and he definitely didn’t disappoint. He was 10/13 for 255 yards (19.6 yard average), 2 TD’s plus 2 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown on a 46 yard scramble just before the end of the second half. He was awfully impressive, though two of his incompletions were passes that I would expect him to make most of the time. But his arm strength, accuracy, intelligence, athleticism and poise were on full display tonight even if the opponent wasn’t much of a challenge. He had great pass protection the whole night, and when the pocket did eventually break down a couple of times he gashed UNLV’s defense with improvised plays. He was extremely effective for having been on campus for only two months. It speaks volumes about him that he was able to adjust and adapt that quickly, not to mention that he played great and was voted as a captain by his teammates.

Nick Toon was only targeted a couple times tonight but he made two tough catches in traffic which was good to see. He and Jared Abbrederis have the most to gain from Wilson’s presence this year because they will see a lot more targets and downfield passes because of his ability to buy time in and out of the pocket and because of his significant arm strength. Jacob Pedersen was also targeted a couple times and I really think that he is going to surprise a lot of people. He’s got a ton of athleticism and upside.

The offensive line looked great to me. Obviously Oglesby isn’t the strongest part of that offensive line, but I am extremely high on Ricky Wagner (LT) and Peter Konz (OC). I also like Travis Frederick and Kevin Zeitler, though this was the first I’d seen of Frederick since he was redshirted last year. Oglesby has his moments in the run game and looked alright in pass protection, but I am going to wait to pass judgement until he deals with players with more edge speed and quickness which he really tends to struggle with when pass blocking. His feet are slow and he doesn’t seem to have much ability to recover quickly and re-establish fundamentally sound mechanics. I love Wagner and Konz though, and both looked great tonight when I paid attention to them even if it was against less than comparable competition.

Louis Nzegwu flashed some potential at DE for Wisconsin as did David Gilbert, though I think Nzegwu is the better player I think Gilbert has more upside because of his size, speed and strength combination. He flashed some serious speed off the edge last year and showed that again in this game, but he just needs to improve his hand usage if he is going to provide anywhere close to the pass rush that J.J. Watt did from that same position last year. Defensive tackle was a concern of mine for the Badgers coming in and that held to form as they got gashed versus the run, whether it was inside or outside in this game. That speaks to the linebackers as well, but they looked pretty weak up the middle to me and Gilbert did not impress me much versus the run, though I would need to re-watch the game to get a more accurate feel for that. I think the Badgers are really going to struggle to stop teams like Nebraska and Michigan State on the ground if they gave up 146 rushing yards to UNLV.

Antonio Fenelus impressed me in the secondary for Wisconsin. He was called for pass interference on a play when he had perfectly fine coverage, located the ball and was making a play for the ball in the air. I thought it was a bad call, there was contact, but it shouldn’t have been a penalty. I think he has some significant upside, and I’m excited to watch him this year. Devin Smith, their new starter at corner, didn’t fare as well. I don’t think he has much upside in the NFL, and at this point he’s probably a late round/free agent guy based on what I’ve seen of him, though he is fundamentally sound for the most part. He just doesn’t have what it takes in coverage in my opinion. I’m also not that impressed with Aaron Henry. I didn’t pay attention to him at all (he might not have even played for all I know) but he strikes me as an average FS in the NFL. Not very fundamentally sound and doesn’t seem to have very good instincts in my opinion.

For UNLV I wasn’t very impressed with their QB Caleb Herring. He looks very skinny and he has a bit of a goofy throwing motion, and isn’t overly accurate. However, he did throw a couple nice balls and I liked some of what I saw from Phillip Payne. He dropped a pass or maybe two, but he made a couple nice catches in traffic and had one of UNLV’s two touchdowns on the night. It’ll be interesting to see how he does this year.

So overall I was impressed with Wisconsin, but their run defense and their kicking game is going to hurt their chances at winning the Big 10 with Nebraska and Michigan State both posing legitimate threats with very potent ground games. They have a good chance with Russell Wilson, but their run defense was a weak spot that needs to be improved upon to hold up week 5 against Nebraska, and if they are in close games and they are relying on a kicker who can’t make all of his extra points they could be in for a couple tough losses.

Thanks for reading!!

–Tom

Here’s a quick breakdown of a view games that I think will be interesting over the next few days. Part two will be coming soon, but I didn’t want it to be too long of a post considering they are just previews for the games. This covers Thursday, Friday and some of Saturday. Saturday through Monday will be covered in Part Two. Obviously there aren’t a lot of competitive match-ups in week one of the season since most teams are essentially buying wins to start off the season instead of scheduling potentially challening out of conference opponents, but that’s out of my control. So enjoy some of the match-ups that might just end up being interesting!

Thursday:

-Wisconsin-UNLV:

There are plenty of prospects to look at in this game. Russell Wilson (QB), Montee Ball and James White (RB), Nick Toon (WR), Ricky Wagner (LT), Kevin Zeitler (OG), Peter Konz (OC), Louis Nzegwu (DE), Antonio Fenelus (CB), Aaron Henry (FS) and their former nickel corner Devin Smith. On the UNLV side they have a young QB in Caleb Herring who will be trying to improve on an average season as a freshman where he saw action in 8 games but didn’t do anything spectacular. He has an ok running game and a solid receiver in Phillip Payne who has 127 career receptions coming into his senior year as well as 1,786 total receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. He should be the main target for Herring in this game, and I imagine Fenelus will be up to the challenge of defending him. That could be the most intriguing match-up in the game outside of Wilson playing his first game on the Badgers, which certainly will get lots of media attention throughout the season as he becomes acclimated to the team, the coaching staff and obviously his teammates on offense. I’m excited to see how they all do in this game, but Ricky Wagner is the best prospect in this game in my opinion. It will be interesting to see how he holds up as a starter at Left Tackle. I have high expectations for him.

Friday:

-TCU-Baylor:

This is an intriguing matchup at the QB position with Casey Pachall replacing Andy Dalton at QB and with Robert Griffin III returning as the starter for Baylor. TCU is overrated as the #14 overall team in my opinion, but they are returning a strong defense led by Tank Carder who terrorized Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. I also think Stansly Maponga has some upside as a defensive end for TCU. Griffin is very athletically talented, but needs significant improvement with his mechanics and accuracy to be a serious or even dominant threat at QB. It will be interesting to see what Pachall has to offer, but Ed Wesley and a strong stable of RB’s are returning to help support him while he adjusts to the starting role. Kendall Wright is going to get a lot of looks from Griffin especially because of the loss of Josh Gordon, a receiver who had legitimate 1st round ability. TCU is obviously the favorite in this one, but Baylor has enough firepower to potentially hang around with them.

Saturday:

-Northwestern-Boston College:

This game could go either way, and has a couple intriguing prospects at QB. The superior prospect is obviously Dan Persa, the QB for Northwestern. He should give the Wildcats a serious boost on offense, and they’ve got a lot of talent on that offense for him to utilize. Boston College has a younger QB in Chase Rettig who should be a sophomore this year. He showed some ability as a freshman last year, so it will be interesting to see how he deals with the Northwestern defense. Montel Harris should help keep some pressure off of him even if he is an average NFL prospect. I think Northwestern is the favorite, but Boston College has a legitimate shot in this one.

-Notre Dame-South Florida:

Notre Dame is a heavy favorite in this game but I don’t buy the hype of them being a potential top 15 team. South Florida doesn’t have a great shot at winning this game but they have a QB in B.J. Daniels who can be very streaky, and can be dangerous when he’s hot thanks to his strong arm and legitimate athleticism so he can threaten with his legs as well as his arm. I’m not sold on Notre Dame’s defense at this point, but their offense shouldn’t have much trouble scoring on South Florida’s defense. Dayne Crist will be starting a game for the first time in a very long time so expect some significant rust, but they’ll make it easy for him to get into a rhythm, especially with Michael Floyd still intact.

-BYU-Ole Miss:

I actually think this could be an interesting game. I know nothing about either QB that Ole Miss was considering starting (except that the original starter Randall Mackey was arrested for disorderly conduct after a fight at a bar) so now Barry Brunetti is starting. I know a significant bit more about Jake Heaps, BYU’s QB, and I am excited to see how he progresses. He was incredibly impressive for a true freshman QB last year, and was quite impressive in their bowl win to cap off their season last year. This will be a huge test for him going against a SEC caliber defense, but I think he might be up to it. Ole Miss will rely a lot on Brandon Bolden, their quality RB, who put up 976 rushing yards (14 TD’s and 6.0 ypc) plus 344 receiving yards and 3 more TD’s on 32 receptions. It’ll be interesting to see how well they move the ball because I have no expectations for their QB. They have some talent on defense, but it will be interesting to see how they match up with BYU. Cody Hoffman, BYU’s very large WR, might create some match-up problems because of his size.

It’ll be interesting to see how these match-ups play out, but regardless I am excited to see some college football finally. Enjoy it, I know I will!

–Tom