Tag Archive: Offensive Guard


Wisconsin Badgers Prospect Preview:

Joel Stave, QB, Sophomore- If my opinion means anything, then Joel Stave should be the starting quarterback of the Wisconsin Badgers. He has to have the inside track for the job after the way he played in the spring game, but the new Badgers Head Coach Gary Andersen likes his quarterbacks to be mobile so it’s no sure thing. However, Stave has all the size (6’5”, 219) and arm strength a Badger fan could ask for. His accuracy impressed me as well, but he has room to grow in that area (particularly on deep balls, which he is hit or miss on). On top of that, Stave essentially saved Wisconsin’s season last year by solidifying the quarterback position and giving them a semblance of a passing game, so I trust him to be an effective starter for the full length of a season if he can stay healthy. Stave completed 58.8 % of the 119 passes he threw a year ago and started 6 games. He passed for 1,104 yards, 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in those games. He may not be perfect, but if the Badgers can run the ball effectively they won’t need him to be. I’ll take him over any Badger quarterback I’ve watched since I started watching college football with the obvious exception of Russell Wilson. Now, if Stave can’t stay healthy the Badgers do have a reliable option in Curt Phillips, a 6th year senior, that they can trust to take snaps at quarterback. Still, if I have to choose between Stave and “Curt Tebow” as I took to calling him during some of his late game heroics last year I’ll take Stave and not think twice.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Sophomore- Gordon is a kid that I heard about during the spring game last year and I immediately was intrigued. A 6’1”, 206 pound kid with what I believe is sub 4.5 speed? Sign me up. Gordon was impressive last year and despite being behind both Montee Ball and James White he racked up 621 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns with an INSANE 10 yard per carry average. Not only that, but he added 151 yards and a 21.6 yard average per kick return as well. Gordon is an impressive back with the strength to run through tackles, impressive burst and enough long speed to rip off big chunks of yardage. He’s going to be the next great Wisconsin running back and I’ve been saying it since last August. I still feel the same way, and I can’t wait to watch him split the carries with James White this year.

James White, RB, Senior- White is an interesting player, because as a sophomore he really ran into the “sophomore slump” that talented freshmen run into at times. The 5’10”, 197 pound back ran for “only” 713 yards (5.06 ypc) and 6 touchdowns after rushing for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman. He got back on track as a junior, rushing for 806 yards (6.45 ypc) and 12 touchdowns despite carrying the ball less than he did as a sophomore (125 carries vs 141 carries). He’s Wisconsin’s speed back and he has legitimate sub 4.5 speed, he’s very quick, and he has surprising strength for a smaller back. Not only that, but he’s a reliable and dangerous receiver out of the backfield who figures to be featured more in this role as a senior. I like White, but I can’t quite shake that sophomore slump season from my memory despite the bounce-back year he had last year. I’m still hoping to see that absolutely dynamic freshman again, and I hope he comes back for one last hurrah this season.

Jared Abbrederis, WR, Senior- Abbrederis is a player I’ve been rooting for since he was a freshman. He’s a former walk-on who actually got playing time in one receiver sets over Nick Toon even as a freshman while Toon was a junior. He’s a high effort, high work ethic player who may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he finds a way to get the job done. He’s listed at 6’2”, 188 pounds but I think he will measure in at 6’1” or maybe even 6’0” even. He’s probably going to run in the 4.55 range for his 40 yard dash time so he’s not a burner, but he runs good routes, has good quickness and reliable hands. If he gets drafted I think it will be at the end of the draft, likely in the 6th-7th round range, but it’s entirely possible he ends up signing with a team as an undrafted free agent. Still, Abbrederis has been a reliable receiver for the Badgers since he arrived on campus and he produced 49 receptions, 837 yards and 5 touchdowns last year despite the carousel at quarterback throughout the season.

Kenzel Doe, WR/KR, Junior- Doe was flying under my radar as he only hauled in 16 receptions for 121 yards as a sophomore but I expect his role on the team to increase significantly this year. Doe is a dynamic threat in the slot and as a return man and I expect him to be utilized in a number of ways to take advantage of his speed. Doe is listed at 5’8”, 170 pounds, so he is quite undersized, but he has plenty of speed and quickness to help compensate for that. As a return man he averaged 27.9 yards per kick return and 12.4 yards per punt return, including an 82 yard touchdown against his new Head Coach’s former team Utah State. He had a very good spring game and I fully expect to see him as Wisconsin’s primary slot receiver, kick returner and hopefully punt returner as well. If Stave wins the job I think Doe will easily exceed his 16 receptions and 121 yards as a sophomore.

Jacob Pedersen, TE, Senior- Pedersen isn’t the same prospect that Lance Kendricks was at the position a couple of years ago, but Pedersen is a poor-mans Kendricks to me. He’s not the same athlete, he doesn’t have the same upside, but he is reliable in the pass game and as a run blocker. He’s not going to be a dominant in line blocker at the next level, but as an H-Back type blocker he will be just fine. At 6’4”, 237 pounds he’s not a huge guy but he has enough athleticism for me to think he’s going to get day 3 consideration. He isn’t a flashy player that does anything spectacularly well, but he is solid in all areas.

Ryan Groy, OT/OG, Senior- Groy is a player I was initially worried about sliding outside to tackle, but I think he will be able to hold up alright there as a senior. It’s tough to project how the 6’5”, 318 pounder will do on the blind side since I’ve never seen him play there, but he has enough lateral agility, good enough length and a strong enough anchor for me to think he can handle it. Originally I viewed him as only a guard, but after watching him and taking notes I think he might have a shot at playing tackle at the next level. That is all obviously projection, and I’m certainly not sold on him as a NFL left tackle, but he is carrying a day 2 grade from me into the season without a doubt. I’m excited to see what he can do, because as a guard he showed pretty good hand placement, a good anchor, and was smooth getting to the second level. He doesn’t strike me as a mauler in the run game, and is at his best when he can double team a defender, seal him off, cut him, or combo block and get to the second level. He’s not a great puller, but he looked solid when asked to do it. I think he’s going to be a good ZBS fit at the next level, and could potentially be a very good right tackle in a scheme that uses a lot of those concepts. I can’t wait to see what he can do outside at tackle this year.

Rob Havenstein, OT, Junior- Havenstein was a bit of a problem area for Wisconsin’s line last year but I see potential when I watch him. The most surprising thing about the 6’8”, 342 pound lineman was how quick he was out of his stance as a pass blocker. He gets good depth, is often the first one out of his stance, and doesn’t look like he will struggle with speed off the edge if he can improve his technique over the next two seasons. He has the length, he has the size, he just needs to work on some of his mechanical issues. He ends up on the ground a lot as a result of poor hand placement and I’m not sure if he’s a natural knee bender at this point. He’s obviously huge and is effective when he blocks down on defensive tackles and can wash them out thanks to his size and strength, but he’s not great at getting to the second level. He showed some ability to recover in pass protection which was encouraging, but I’m going to be watching him closely next year to see how he does when he is tested by quality pass rushers.

Kyle Costigan, OG, Junior- It’s official- the Kyle Costigan bandwagon starts behind me. I am driving it and there’s no one that can convince me otherwise. I LOVE this kid’s game. He’s listed at 6’4”, 313 pounds but he moves like he weighs 280. He is such a smooth puller, he is a text book combo blocker, he gets to the 2nd level easily, and he is a very good cut blocker. Not only that, but in the Ohio State game he absolutely held his own in 1 on 1 situations with Johnathan Hankins which is no easy task. He was only a sophomore, but he was awfully impressive to me in the games I watched. He looks like a potential 1st round draft pick if he continues to improve and get stronger. Look out for him.

Dan Voltz, C, Freshman- Voltz is a player I obviously haven’t watched any of yet but the coaches seem to be high on him and he’s being pegged as a potential future 1st rounder following in the steps of Peter Konz (2nd rounder) and Travis Frederick (1st rounder, even if everyone hated the pick). He’s listed at 6’4”, 301 pounds and is supposed to be very smart based on what I’ve read about him. It’s going to be tough to pick up where Frederick left off from a football IQ standpoint but I’m excited to see what he can do as the only underclassman starting on Wisconsin’s offensive line at what some consider the most critical position.

Ethan Hemer, DE/DT, Senior- Hemer is a player I’m excited to watch this year because I think the 3-4 scheme that the Badgers are installing as their new base defense will play to his strong suits. He’s listed at 6’6”, 296 pounds so he is essentially the prototype 3-4 defensive end. Last year he managed 24 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL and 3 pass defections in his first year as a starter. I expect him to be more disruptive this year and I think 3-4 teams are going to be intrigued by him as a possible day 3 selection.

Beau Allen, DT, Senior- Allen is the key cog in Wisconsin’s defense this year because if he can hold up versus double teams in the middle and free up Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong to play clean versus the run then the Badgers will be a much better defense in 2013. Allen certainly has the size to do it as he is listed at 6’3”, 335 and is one of the key players returning on defense. He managed 37 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5 TFL and 2 pass break-ups as a junior and while I think that his statistics might not be the same as a year ago at the end of the season he may have an even bigger impact. He’s going to see a lot of double teams this year and if he can hold up at the point of attack he’s going to be very attractive to a lot of 3-4 teams at the next level.

Brendan Kelly, DE/OLB, Senior- Kelly is a player I’m really rooting for because he has been through so much during his time with the Badgers. 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 and he missed time with a hand injury as well. He stayed healthy (as far as I know) last season and the 6’6”, 258 pounder managed 28 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 TFL and 2 pass break-ups on the year. I’m not sure he’s going to be considered before the end of day 3, but the fact that he even has the chance to be drafted after all the injuries he has sustained is impressive. I’m really hoping he has a break-out year this year rotating with Tyler Dippel at outside linebacker.

Chris Borland, ILB, Senior- It’s hard to believe Borland is finally a senior, but it’s happened. It feels to me like he’s been at Wisconsin forever, but now the “short not small” 5’11”, 242 pound linebacker is getting ready to graduate and attempt a jump to the NFL. Borland’s size is going to hurt him in the eyes of evaluators but he’s strong, moves well and is a very good tackler. He has exceeded 100 tackles the last two years, including 104 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL and 6 pass break-ups as a junior. Borland doesn’t excel at shedding blocks and can be engulfed by bigger players at times, but he has a good motor and plays the run well. He’s a good blitzer as well, but I don’t completely trust him in pass coverage. I don’t think he’s a liability there, but I think he still has room to improve that part of his game. He’s not going to be a fit for every defensive scheme in the NFL, and many will doubt that he even has starter upside. I’ve seen him play too much to say he doesn’t, but I don’t think he’s going to be given a starting gig. He’s going to have to make the team as a likely day 3 selection and claw his way to playing time. I think he can do it though, and hopefully I’ll be able to see him show his skills at an All-Star game this winter.

Ethan Armstrong, ILB, Senior- I’m not very familiar with Armstrong’s game as last season was his first as a starter, but the undersized 6’2”, 216 pound linebacker started all 14 games last season and managed 93 tackles, 2 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and an interception. I don’t think he’s the same prospect that Borland is and isn’t nearly as filled out considering he is listed as 3 inches taller than him yet he reportedly weighs 26 pounds less. If he can fill out his frame he might have a NFL future, but there’s no way he can last in the NFL weighing under 220 pounds.

Dezman Southward, FS, Senior- Southward is the only returning starter in Wisconsin’s secondary but from all I’ve read about him he has really taken to his new leadership role as the veteran among the DB’s. The most surprising thing to me about Southward was that he only picked up football as a senior in high school (he previously played basketball) and didn’t even play safety. He has had to start from scratch as far as learning the game and as a fifth year senior he has only been playing the game for 6 years. The 6’2”, 213 pound safety is obviously a good athlete and he is being touted as a potential star this year. In his first season as a starter Southward totaled 69 tackles, 8 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception from his free safety position. This year he will be expected to be even better in coverage and help Wisconsin create more turnovers.

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Iowa Hawkeyes Prospect Preview:

Mark Weisman, RB, Junior- Weisman is a 6’0”, 236 pound power back that helped save Iowa’s rushing attack last season. He walked on as a fullback after deciding to leave the Air Force and attend Iowa (playing for Iowa was “his dream”) and after injuries to two running backs against Northern Iowa Weisman was the next man up and he never looked back. He rushed 159 times for 815 yards and 8 touchdowns and added 15 receptions for 90 yards and another score as a receiver. Weisman won’t be confused for a speed back, but he seems to have pretty good vision, surprising quickness for someone who is supposed to be a fullback, and he runs hard with good pad level. It’s not surprising to see him run through tackles or run defenders over altogether when you watch him run. He figures to be “the guy” for Iowa this year, and it’s a pretty awesome story. Whether he will show the athleticism and skill set to be a NFL running back is another thing, but I am looking forward to seeing him run the ball and help stabilize the Iowa running game this season.

Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR, Junior- Most people would have assumed that Keenan Davis led the Hawkeyes in all statistical categories last season but in reality Martin-Manley (KMM) led the team in receptions (52), tied Davis for the lead in receiving yards (571) and led the team with 2 touchdowns. Obviously those aren’t earth shattering numbers, but the 6’0”, 205 pound receiver showed some promise as a possible slot receiver last year. He’s still only a junior, so I am looking forward to seeing if he can be “the guy” at wide receiver for the Hawkeyes this year. They still haven’t settled on a starting quarterback yet, so there’s a good chance KMM will have to deal with uneven quarterback play for another year if not two. Also, keep an eye on Jordan Cotton as a wide receiver and return man.

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Senior- I have been waiting for Fiedorowicz to break out for the past two years and while I’m not sure it will happen this year I don’t think it will be because he lacks talent. The 6’7”, 265 pound tight end has had to deal with some pretty bad quarterback play the last couple of years and it doesn’t figure to get much better now that they are going to have a first time starter this year. Say what you will about James Vandenberg, but he threw every pass for Iowa last season. The Hawkeyes will be lucky to have that same kind of consistency this year in my opinion. That spells trouble for Fiedorowicz who, while being an excellent blocker, only totaled 45 receptions for 433 yards and 1 touchdown last year. He’s one of the most talented tight ends in the country, but it doesn’t show on the stat sheet because he doesn’t have anyone to get him the ball. Fiedorowicz is essentially an extension of the offensive line as a blocker which is a great asset for a team who runs a traditional pro style offense like Iowa, and it will make him appealing to teams like the Steelers in the NFL. For a full scouting report on Fiedorowicz read Matt Mochal’s write-up on him and follow him on Twitter @itsasabotage.

Brandon Scherff, OT, Junior- Scherff is coming off of a broken leg but he was 100% in the spring so he should be fine for the 2013 season. He’s not the same athlete that Van Sloten is but he is stronger and better in the run game. He’s shown an effective cut block and seems comfortable with zone and man concepts which is good, and he also has shown he can drive block a bit and generate push off the ball at times. He looks less comfortable in his pass sets though and looked slow off the ball against NIU, though that may have just been because Alan Baxter was flying off the edge so quick. But he did look late off the ball a number of times and wasn’t getting great depth in his initial drop or his kick slide in general, and it led to him being off balance at times. I think Scherff is more of a RT in the NFL, and I honestly think Van Sloten might be a better traditional fit at LT than Scherff is given his athleticism and some of his issues generating push in 1 on 1 situations. Scherff is the better run blocker, but I’ll give Van Sloten the edge in pass pro. Scherff’s main goal has to be to stay healthy, and it’s clear his presence was missed in the running game after his injury. If he stays healthy the run game should be fine, but I still have questions about him in pass protection.

Brett Van Sloten, OT, Senior- The first thing I noticed about Van Sloten (or BVS) is that he is an impressive athlete and I speculated that he had to be a former TE. Turns out he was, he played tight end and defensive end in high school. He is listed at 6’7”, 300 pounds and he moves like a defensive end. BVS needs to improve his anchor and get stronger in the lower half, but boy does he have potential thanks to that athletic ability. Seems to have pretty good length, needs to play with a bit better pad level, but his movement skills are awfully impressive for a 6’7” tackle. I’m not sure I saw him get speed rushed effectively once against Penn State, and while he doesn’t have much buzz around him right now I think he’s a nice sleeper prospect at the offensive tackle position. He’s not projected to get drafted now, but if he’s as athletic as he looks to me then I think he will creep up boards over the course of the year. If he can improve his anchor and work on his pad level a little bit I think that will help him even more.

Austin Blythe, Sophomore- Blythe is listed at 6’3”, 300 pounds but he looks smaller than that to me, likely 6’2” or so. He also seems to have short arms which concerns me, but he has a pretty stocky build. He started 9 games at right guard last year as a redshirt freshman and was a 1st team freshman All-American. He held his own for a freshman, but he has some room for improvement. He seems to lack lateral quickness and really struggled against players that were athletic enough to beat him with quickness and upfield speed. Jordan Hill gave him a lot of trouble, and it had to do with his quickness and burst. He is an effective combo blocker and he can get to the second level effectively, but he struggled at times in pass protection and giving up interior pressure frequently leads to disaster on pass plays. Blythe is moving inside to center this year so it will be interesting to see if he is stronger and more adept at handling quicker pass rushers. I think he is smart enough to handle the pivot and some of his issues at guard may not be as obvious at center. Only time will tell, but Iowa needs to elevate their interior line play if they are going to have any success as an offense. That starts with Blythe.

Dominic Alvis, DE, Senior- Alvis is a returning starter who is listed at 6’4”, 265 pounds. He’s kind of your typical Iowa defensive lineman who is a high effort, technically sound player that doesn’t have an abundance of athletic ability or upside. I think his best bet is to bulk up and attempt to stick as a 3-4 defensive end because he doesn’t have the quickness or edge speed to consistently win as a 4-3 edge rusher at the next level. He seems to use his hands effectively but he is regularly late off the ball and he doesn’t have the quick-twitch athleticism to compensate for it. He seems to have a good feel for getting his hands up to try to impact passing lanes, but he’s not going to offer much as a pass rusher in a 4-3 alignment.

Carl Davis, DT, Junior- Carl Davis is my guy. Last year I was watching Iowa’s defense and while they didn’t have much talent outside of Micah Hyde #71 stuck out to me consistently. Davis is listed at 6’5”, 315 pounds and is a surprisingly good athlete for such a large man. He was flashing a lot of upside but he was a raw sophomore that needed to work on his pad level, improve his technique and get more playing time. He is projected to be a starter this fall and that might have something to do with him dominating in the spring. While he struggled against the undersized James Ferentz in practice last year, this year Davis is the one doing the dominating thanks to supposedly better pad level. This will be his first year as a starter and he only had 14 tackles and 1.5 TFL last year, but expect a BIG statistical uptick in 2013. Even if he doesn’t total a lot of sacks or tackles for loss you can bet his impact will be felt on Iowa’s defense. He’s likely going to draw consistent double teams which could free up other players to make plays, particularly Iowa’s three senior linebackers. I’m a big Davis fan and if the rumors about his improved pad level are true we could all be in for a treat whenever we watch Iowa play.

James Morris, MLB, Senior- Morris is the middle linebacker for the Hawkeyes and he was 2nd on their team in tackles last year with 113 as well as 1.5 sacks, 7.5 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception. Contrary to all of those pass break-ups I don’t think the 6’2”, 240 pound linebacker excels in coverage. He isn’t a great athlete and as a result he doesn’t have great range, and he takes some false steps when asked to drop in coverage. He isn’t bad passing defenders off in zone and gets solid depth, but he’s not going to be a playmaker in coverage in the NFL in my opinion. He seems to be a smart player but doesn’t shed blocks well and gets caught up in the trash too much for my liking versus the run. This was particularly obvious against Michigan State this year, and Le’Veon Bell benefited greatly from it. Morris is a reliable tackler and he’s got a good motor, but I just don’t see a starting NFL linebacker based off of what I’ve seen from him so far. He’s got another year to prove me wrong, but I’m not high on him right now.

Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Senior- Hitchens is the Iowa linebacker I am least familiar with but he led the Hawkeyes in tackles with 124 last year, adding 1 sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. He is listed at 6’1”, 233 pounds and I believe last year was his first as a starter. I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table as a senior and a second year starter, but right now I’m not overly intrigued by him. Still, his production last year meant I needed to try to do my due diligence on him.

Christian Kirksey, OLB, Senior- Kirksey is my favorite linebacker on the Hawkeyes and is one of their better defensive prospects overall in my opinion. I think he is the best athlete of the three senior ‘backers and it shows in coverage. First of all, despite being listed at 6’2”, 235 pounds he looks like a safety on the field which is both a good and a bad thing for a linebacker. I haven’t seen him shed blocks particularly effectively, but he gives good effort in the run game and attacks which I like to see. He’s got better range than Morris and looks more comfortable dropping into zone coverage to me. I’m not sure if he is going to be a starting linebacker in the NFL, but I think he has a better skill set to do it than Morris or Hitchens. We will see if I’m right over the course of the year, but right now Kirksey is my top linebacker on the Hawkeyes.

Indiana Hoosiers Prospect Preview:

Nate Sudfeld, QB, Sophomore/Tre Roberson, Sophomore/Cameron Coffman, Junior- I had to lump all three of these guys into one preview because the starting position still hasn’t been decided yet. I haven’t watched Tre Roberson play in any games, but he is the more athletic of the three QB’s and started off the season strong statistically before breaking his leg. He’s good to go now, but I’m not sure he’s going to get his starting job back. While I haven’t seen him play much, I have to say I am not a fan of Cameron Coffman. He doesn’t have a very strong arm, he doesn’t offer the same athleticism that Roberson does, and I don’t think he has the same pocket passer upside that Sudfeld does. Personally, Sudfeld is the guy I want starting for Indiana. He showed me something against Ohio State and while he wasn’t making a wide array of difficult NFL throws he did show some gumption, the moment wasn’t too big for him as they were trying to come back, and he even made an impromptu flip pass to Stephen Houston as he was getting tackled that ended up being his second touchdown in the late portion of the 4th quarter. Personally, I prefer Sudfeld and his 6’5”, 234 pound frame and while he wasn’t perfect he forced a LOT less passes than Coffman did against Ohio State (Coffman could have easily had 3 or 4 interceptions in that game) and I think with Kevin Wilson’s tutelage he can develop into a quality passer. We’ll see who wins the job, but I personally think it will be between Sudfeld and Roberson.

Stephen Houston, RB, Senior- I like Houston, he’s listed at 6’0”, 225 but he has some speed, sub 4.6 for sure, and surprising quickness. He’s shown he can run effectively, he’s caught the ball (when he can get his hands on it Coffman) and I think he’s an underrated back for the 2014 class. Is he a star? No, but he can play. He ran for 749 yards (4.7 ypc), 12 touchdowns and added 37 receptions for 381 yards and 4 touchdowns. He may not be a burner, but I think he’s a reliable back that should get more attention this year thanks to Indiana’s potential to be a high scoring offense. They might put up a lot of yardage through the air, but Houston is the RB that will help keep the offense balanced this upcoming year.

Tevin Coleman, RB/KR, Sophomore- Coleman is a back-up running back but he is also the primary kick return man for Indiana. Last year the 6’1”, 209 pound back rushed for 225 yards and 1 touchdown and added 566 return yards (23.6 yard average) including 1 touchdown. He looks like a possible sub 4.5 guy to me when I watch him, and while he won’t be the starting back this year I think he has the inside track to that position as a junior. In the meantime he will continue to be a big play waiting to happen in the kick return game.

Cody Latimer, WR, Junior- I am a Cody Latimer fan. He has shown that he is a good hands catcher, I like his 6’3”, 215 frame and he looks like a solid route runner. He also adjusts to the ball well in the air and can catch passes that are behind him. He led the team with 805 receiving yards on 51 receptions, adding 6 touchdowns. He’s only a junior this year, but if Indiana settles on one quality passer I think Latimer is in line for a 1,000 yard, 10 touchdown season. He’s flying under the radar, but he’s going to be a draftable kid by the time he’s done at Indiana.

Kofi Hughes, WR, Senior- Hughes didn’t catch my eye quite as consistently as Latimer did, but he did have a fantastic catch on an underthrown deep ball against Ohio State. Like Latimer I think he adjusts well to the ball in the air, and he went up and got it over the corner. He’s listed at 6’2”, 215 pounds and produced 43 receptions, 639 yards and 3 touchdowns as a junior. Right now I think Hughes is a possible day 3 pick, but he needs to show improved route running and have a big year to help that happen. I think Indiana’s offense has the potential to be a high octane unit, and Hughes could really benefit from that.

Shane Wynn, WR, Junior- Wynn is the big play/YAC guy on Indiana’s offense. He may not have the best hands, and he’s undersized, but the 5’7”, 167 pound receiver has rumored 4.4 speed and great quickness/shiftiness to make guys miss. He absolutely EMBARRASSED Ryan Shazier in the open field with a lethal spin move, and he made a reception on a routine in route and took it the distance with his speed. His size is going to be the primary knock on him as a prospect, but NFL teams value speed and playmaking over all else at the end of the day and Wynn is a playmaker. If he can continue to eliminate drops and improve his route running his stock will move up. He’s definitely going to spend a lot of time on the field in the slot, so keep an eye on him.

Ted Bolser, TE, Senior- I like Bolser. He’s a reliable receiver and a solid blocker, not spectacular but solid. He is listed at 6’6”, 254 pounds and he moves pretty well. I don’t think he’s going to be an elite TE threat, but I think he’s draftable. He catches the ball well with his hands away from his body, but he’s not a big YAC threat from what I’ve seen. In my opinion he can make a roster, especially if he continues to improve as a blocker (already solid in that area). He did have one bad drop against Ohio State, and twice when he was tackled and heading out of bounds he fumbled the ball (very strange to see that happen twice in one game), but overall I like him. I don’t think he’s going to be a top 100 guy, but if he improves on his 41 receptions, 445 yards and 3 touchdowns as a junior you never know.

Jason Spriggs, OT, Sophomore- The first thing you notice about Spriggs is his huge frame. He’s listed at 6’7”, 280 pounds and it shows. He needs to get stronger and he really struggled with power of John Simon and Noah Spence because of his lack of strength. Spriggs has the length and athleticism to be a very good left tackle prospect, but he needs significant work on his initial drop step and his kick slide. He needs to work on keeping his pads down and get stronger in his lower half to generate more push in the run game, but he clearly moves well for his size and gets to the second level easily. But at this point defenders can shed his blocks too easily as he lacks strength in his initial punch/overall game. He’s still so young that the growth potential is there, and in two years he could be a top offensive tackle prospect. He certainly flashes upside as both a pass and run blocker, and he honestly remains me of Lane Johnson both in how he plays and how much weight he needs to gain to fill out his frame. I don’t think he’s going to run as well as Johnson did, but he’s a similar athlete in my opinion. But there were times against Ohio State that he got beat off the edge by John Simon, and a guy with his athletic ability shouldn’t be getting beat off the edge by a relatively limited athlete like Simon. There are times he just doesn’t gain any depth with his kick slide and it forces him into recovery mode too early. Combine that with his lack of strength and anchor and it puts him on skates more than I would like to see. He was protected in a quick passing offense last year so he didn’t give up an abundance of sacks, but he definitely had his struggles with the superior strength and technique of Simon and Spence against Ohio State. He’s got a lot of upside though, so I’m excited to see if he’s gotten stronger and improved technique wise as a sophomore.

Peyton Eckert, OT, Junior- I watched him and so far I’m not blown away by him based off of what I’ve seen. I don’t think he’s as good of an athlete as Spriggs, but he has some of the same issues. He needs to get stronger, work on his hands, and he struggles to sustain blocks at times. I want to see him finish blocks more and be more tenacious, there are times he throttles down a bit. He has 18 career starts, and he was still a sophomore last year, so I want to see if he can grow into his 6’6”, 295 pound frame and improve his technique much like Spriggs needs to.

Dan Feeney, OG, Sophomore- Feeney caught my eye because he has some nastiness to his game which I like. He’s listed at 6’4”, 305 pounds and started all 12 games as a true freshman last year. However, Michael Bennett’s quickness and hand usage gave him some trouble against Ohio State. He’s got ability, but needs some work. You can tell he was a freshman when you watch him, so it will be interesting to see how he and the rest of Indiana’s offensive line look now that they are more battle tested.

Bernard Taylor, OG, Junior- Taylor is a short, squatty player who looks like he has relatively short arms, but I like him. He was able to block Hankins 1 on 1 in pass pro at times, generated some push in the run game and finished blocks effectively. He has a pretty good anchor and plays with good natural leverage because he’s 6’2” 303 pounds, and does a good job using his strong lower half to his advantage. I haven’t seen enough of him for a full report, but he’s my #2 OL on Indiana behind Spriggs. He already has 16 career starts but missed the last 6 games of the season due to injury last year.

Antonio Marshall, CB, Senior- Marshall doesn’t look to have blazing speed and he did get burned by Devin Smith when he was locked up man to man for a touchdown when I watched him against Ohio State, but I think he’s a solid corner that may get UDFA looks with a solid senior year. He’s listed at 5’11”, 195 pounds, he closes well on plays in front of him, he’s a reliable tackler, and he has decent ball skills. He didn’t turn his head to look at a couple deep balls which I didn’t like to see, but he was in Smith’s hip pocket on a couple other deep throws from Braxton Miller.

Greg Heban, SS, Senior- Heban may be the best returning player on Indiana’s defense and he returns for his senior season as the leading tackler with 91 tackles, 1 sack, 6 TFL, 8 pass break-ups (tied for team lead) and 3 interceptions (led the team). From what I have seen of him he’s a reliable tackler, he seems to be pretty smart, and he’s a good athlete at least relative to Indiana’s defense. He’s not great in coverage contrary to what his stat line might indicate, but he’s not bad enough that I don’t think he has a shot at making a team in the NFL. He has good ball skills, but he wastes steps at times and doesn’t react as quickly as I would like. I like some of his game though, so I’m interested to see if he can boost his stock with a solid senior season.

Nebraska Cornhuskers Prospect Preview:

Taylor Martinez, QB, Senior- Martinez is well known at this point and enters his senior year with 24 starts on his resume. He’s still not very accurate as a passer and his arm strength is limited. He’s listed at 6’1”, 210 pounds and does have the athleticism to pick up yardage with his legs (obviously, Nebraska uses the option in their run game) but he’s not a rare athlete. He’s going to have to attempt a transition to wide receiver to make it in the NFL, and I’m not sure he has the skill set to thrive there. He was certainly more efficient last year as he passed for 2,871 yards, completed 62% of his passes, and threw 23 TD’s and only 12 interceptions. Still, I’m not a fan of his passing mechanics (particularly his throwing motion, though he has worked to improve it) and I don’t think he’s a NFL QB. There is one player on Nebraska’s roster that I think has that potential though…

Tommy Armstrong, QB, Freshman- Full disclosure: Until a few days ago I had absolutely no idea who Tommy Armstrong was. I’m not that tapped in to high school recruiting, so I had never heard of him. However, judging by Nebraska’s spring game (his first playing time with Nebraska, as he redshirted as a true freshman) as well as his high school highlights he is going to be special. He is listed at 6’1”, 220 pounds, he’s athletic, he is already a better passer than Taylor Martinez in my opinion (he’s better at pitching on the option as well) and boy does he have an arm. It’s not the strongest I’ve ever seen, but it’s strong. Not only does he have a strong arm, but based on everything I’ve seen, he’s also accurate. He has made a few throws to the sideline placing the ball perfectly in between zone defenders for his receiver to make the catch that made my jaw drop. He can throw on the run, he’s shown that he can be lethal off of play action, and I have to admit watching him he reminded me of Russell Wilson. I know that’s excessively high praise, but that’s who came to mind watching him play. He’s got a lot of ability and he’s almost completely unproven, but I am extremely intrigued. I think he can be a star.

Ameer Abdullah, RB/KR, Junior- Now that I’ve completed my fan boy rambling about Tommy Armstrong, let me start my fan boy rambling about Ameer Abdullah. He didn’t get a ton of touches on offense as a freshman, but seeing him return kicks and punts was enough for me. I was on the bandwagon. Thankfully, Nebraska made him one of the focal points of their offense as a sophomore and he made it worth their while. The 5’9”, 190 pound back led the team with 1,137 yards, averaged 5 yards per carry and scored 8 touchdowns. He added 24 receptions for 178 yards and 2 touchdowns, a 21.2 yard average per kick return (which was actually down SIGNIFICANTLY from his freshman year average of 29.35, likely due to the significant increase in his workload) and an impressive 13.1 yard average per punt return including another touchdown. Abdullah may not have elite size, but he’s very fast and explosive. Not only that, but he is very shifty in the open field and his lower body strength and balance is obvious as he can run through arm tackles easily. I was also impressed with him not only as a receiver, but as a pass blocker. He made a few great blitz pick-ups and isn’t afraid to be physical which I really like. He’s my favorite draft eligible prospect on Nebraska’s roster and I am looking forward to seeing him play even more as a junior.

Imani Cross, RB, Sophomore- Cross is going to be the #2 behind Abdullah, but I think there’s the potential for a “thunder and lightning” combo since Cross is listed at 6’1”, 225 pounds but is a pretty good athlete. He runs hard, and last year he produced 324 yards on just 55 carries as well as 7 touchdowns. He impressed me in the spring game and I think Abdullah and Cross are going to be up there with Melvin Gordon and James White as the top running back duo in the Big-10.

Kenny Bell, WR, Junior- Kenny Bell may very well be the top prospect on Nebraska’s roster, though Abdullah is my favorite. He’s listed at 6’1”, 185 pounds but he has impressive speed, very good hands, adjusts to poorly thrown balls well, and clearly has good concentration. He may not be a 4.4 flat guy, but I was impressed with his speed and quickness. I haven’t seen him enough to accurately evaluate his route running, but he is definitely Nebraska’s best wide receiver given that he had 50 receptions, 863 yards and 8 touchdowns as a sophomore. He also added 325 kick return yards with an average of 23.2 yards per return. He’s a playmaker and I’m excited to see what he can do as a junior.

Jamal Turner, WR, Junior- Turner is Nebraska’s other main playmaking receiver and is actually listed at the exact same height and weight as Kenny Bell. Like Bell, he has impressive speed, good hands and he has shown me a lot of shiftiness in the open field. The 6’1”, 185 pound receiver totaled 32 receptions, 417 yards and 3 touchdowns as a sophomore and figures to produce even more as a junior. If he and Bell come back for their senior seasons they could be a truly terrifying duo with Tommy Anderson passing them the ball. Hell, they’ll be quite a duo as juniors with Taylor Martinez this year.

Brent Qvale, OT, Senior- Qvale started 13 games for the Huskers last year in his first year as a starter. He’s listed at 6’7”, 315 pounds and was actually a very good basketball player in high school, reportedly averaging 20+ points and 10+ rebounds a game as a senior. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to stick at LT in the NFL, but he could slide over to right tackle or maybe inside to guard if he can’t stick outside. He doesn’t look like a great athlete on the edge to me, but he is surprisingly solid when asked to cut block and will at least get a shot to stick outside at the next level. He had some issues against UCLA because of their athleticism in their front 7, and I don’t think he’s a prototypical “mauler” that can compensate for his less than stellar upside as a pass rusher. He’s a late Day 3 guy to me right now, but I haven’t watched enough to write a full report on him yet.

Jeremiah Sirles, OT, Senior- In my opinion Sirles is actually the better tackle prospect between him and Qvale. I think he’s the better athlete, and he has a lot more starting experience and less injury question marks. Sirles started 14 games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman before not starting any games as a sophomore. As a junior he re-emerged as the started on the right side where he started all 14 games a year ago. Sirles plays both right and left tackle for the Huskers, replacing Qvale on the left side at times, and looked pretty comfortable there. I don’t know that he can stick there at the next level, but I believe he has the athleticism to play right tackle at least. He’s listed at 6’6”, 310 pounds and moves pretty well for that size. I’m not sure where I have him graded at right now, but he’s probably in the 4th-5th round conversation at this point.

Spencer Long, OG, Senior- Initially when I was watching Long I was actually really unimpressed. Much like with Khaled Holmes last summer I saw him ending up on the ground more than I would like and bending at the waist too much when he was trying to drive block. However, after I got past my initial displeasure I ended up liking some of what I saw. The first thing you notice when you’re watching Long is that he’s a big, squatty guy. He’s listed at 6’4”, 315 pounds but he looks like he’s 6’2” or 6’3” to me and doesn’t look like he has the longest arms. However, despite that, he moves pretty well for his size and is very regularly used for pulling from his right guard position. He’s comfortable pulling both ways, moves well in space and generally takes one guy out when he is asked to pull. He’s not a great drive blocker contrary to what I was expecting of him, but he does seal well and I was impressed enough with him as a puller to give him a mid-round grade at this point.

Jason Ankrah, DE, Senior- I’ll be honest and admit I’m not overly familiar with Ankrah’s game, but he is one of TWO seniors projected to start in Nebraska’s front 7 and his size and length intrigued me. He’s listed at 6’4”, 265 pounds and produced 26 tackles, 2 sacks and 4 TFL last season. He’s flashed some hand usage and while I don’t think he has a great burst off the ball I think he has some potential as a strong side end in a 4-3. I don’t think he’s going to be a dominant pass rusher, and that’s one of the reasons Nebraska has to be worried about their defense this year. If Ankrah is their top returning sack man (which he is, tied for the team lead with Ciante Evans, a cornerback) and he doesn’t generate much pass rush then Nebraska’s more experienced secondary is going to have a lot of pressure on them. Perhaps Ankrah will surprise me, but right now I don’t think he’s going to be able to replace the 8.5 sacks that Eric Martin produced last season.

Zaire Anderson, OLB, Junior- Anderson is a kid that I was completely unfamiliar with until the spring game and until I read up on him a bit following it. He generated a lot of buzz by dominating the “Compete Drill” which is a drill where a defender has to beat two blockers and tackle a ball carrier. From what I read the blockers won this drill almost every time, but Anderson absolutely shredded it. He tore his ACL before the second game of the season last year and received a medical redshirt, and now the short not small linebacker is ready to play a full year of football. Having only started one game for Nebraska last year there isn’t much film to go on, but watching what I could of him at junior college and reading up on his performance at the spring game I definitely am keeping an eye on this kid. He screams impact player to me and even though he is listed at 5’11”, 220 pounds he plays bigger than that (as you can see from that video). He’s not afraid of contact, he stacks and sheds shockingly well for his size, he’s a good tackler, and he’s a good athlete. I think he can get up in the 230-235 range by the time he leaves Nebraska and if I’m right I think he’s going to be a linebacker in the NFL.

Ciante Evans, CB, Senior- It’s hard to get a great feel for corners (at least for me) without All-22 footage, but Evans is a guy that I think could be draftable with another solid senior season. Evans was a first year starter last season as a junior and the 5’11”, 190 pound corner produced 56 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 8 pass break-ups and 1 interception. From what I’ve been able to see of him it seems like he has pretty good ball skills and he is the Huskers’ nickel corner, so having experience covering in the slot will help him in the eyes of evaluators. He needs another good year to boost his draft stock into the draftable range in my opinion.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Senior- Andrew Green is supposedly the better prospect, but I am much more intrigued by Jean-Baptiste. He’s a converted wide receiver who had never played defensive back before his first season with Nebraska as a sophomore but he still made this fantastic interception despite only having been on the defensive side of the ball for 3 weeks. Given the NFL’s trend of wanting bigger, longer and more physical corners I think Jean-Baptiste is going to be far more popular than people expect come draft time. He’s listed at 6’2”, 215 pounds and has great length and ball skills thanks to his time spent as a wide receiver. He’s still raw and obviously doesn’t know the nuances of the position, but I think he has a lot of upside as an outside corner. He’s not going to run a 4.4 flat, but I think he is in the 4.5-4.55 range which is more than good enough to get a NFL look at corner given his fantastic size. He may not even be a starter for Nebraska, but I think he’s going to get some NFL looks. He had 9 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a junior, so hopefully he gets some playing time outside when Evans slides inside to nickel.

Minnesota Golden Gophers Prospect Preview:

Philip Nelson, QB, Sophomore- Nelson returns as the incumbent starter after a solid but unspectacular freshman year. The Gophers struggled to find consistency of any kind at quarterback between MarQueis Gray, Max Shortell and Nelson. Nelson finished the season with the most yardage but the lowest completion percentage of any of the three quarterbacks who threw a pass for the Gophers in 2013, but according to the guys at thedailygopher.com Nelson has looked accurate and displayed improved decision making this spring. That’s a good sign for the Gophers because they need the 6’2”, 215 pound quarterback to complete passes at a higher clip than his 49.3% rate of 2012. He took his lumps last season, but I expect Nelson to be a solid starter for the Gophers despite his age. If he can stay healthy I think he will prove to be an effective QB, albeit one that needs seasoning and development. Based on what I’ve seen from Nelson he doesn’t have the strongest arm, and as far as the NFL is concerned it is probably no better than average at this point. However, he does have pretty reliable accuracy and touch, he can extend plays with his legs (as well as pick up yardage with them) and make throws on the move outside the pocket. Only time will tell if Nelson has the arm strength to make the jump to the next level, but I think he has enough to be a successful college quarterback.

Donnell Kirkwood, RB, Junior- Last year I was completely on board the James Gillum hype train after I watched what I could of him from junior college and all the reports were that he would likely be “the guy” for the Gophers at running back in 2012. In case you were wondering if you can take everything you see or hear in the spring and summer at face value, you can’t. Gillum had 27 carries for 73 yards and 1 touchdown in 2012 despite the hype train and Donnell Kirkwood emerged as a much more effective back. Kirkwood averaged 4.2 yards per carry behind an offensive line that was constantly changing as a result of injuries. He really came on the scene in my eyes against Northwestern (a game that I attended) where he was consistently running with fantastic pad level. He was regularly gaining tough yardage with his leg drive and making Northwestern’s defense fight to even get him to the ground. Kirkwood is a compact running back listed at 5’10”, 223 pounds and he runs with purpose. His pad level is impressive, he gains good yardage after initial contact thanks to his strong lower body, and he has surprising quickness for his size. The downside is that he was barely utilized at all in the passing game last year, and I haven’t evaluated him as a pass protector yet either. I want to see him utilized more out of the backfield as a receiver and I’m intrigued by his potential as a pass protector thanks to his attitude running the ball as well as his size and strength. I’m definitely a big Kirkwood fan and I’m anticipating a 1,000 yard, 10+ touchdown season from him if he stays healthy.

Mike Henry, FB, Senior- Mike Henry is a little-known player because he rarely touches the ball on the Gophers offense, but he offers value as a blocker which is why I felt he warranted mention here. The NFL seems to be utilizing fullbacks less and less, but versatile players that are willing to block are universally valued in NFL circles and I think Henry has a chance to show he fits that bill. He likely won’t get drafted, but if he can demonstrate his blocking prowess as well as show something as a runner or a receiver he could have a chance to stick somewhere.

Derrick Engel, WR, Senior- Derrick Engel enters 2013 as the leading returning receiver for the Gophers, though that isn’t saying much. He totaled 18 receptions and 375 yards last year, including an impressive 20.8 yards per reception. The 6’2”, 187 pound receiver only produced one touchdown though, but that figures to improve if Phillip Nelson can stabilize the Gophers’ quarterback play. From what I have seen of Engel he doesn’t have elite speed (though he had a listed 40 time of 4.4 at 170 pounds coming out of high school), nor does he have spectacular hands, but he seems to be a reliable receiver that Nelson will be able to count on. Whether that gets him a look as an undrafted free agent or not remains to be seen.

Jamel Harbison, WR, Freshman- Harbison redshirted last year and hasn’t had the healthiest of starts to his career as a Gopher but he was healthy enough to go in the spring game and he impressed me. He seems to run crisp routes, adjusts well to less than perfect throws and showed some wiggle after the catch. He’s listed at 5’11”, 199 and will likely get a lot of time in the slot this year. According to thedailygopher.com coaches have been saying he was the most talented receiver on the roster since he was a true freshman last year, but we will see what he can do if he stays healthy all season. He was quoted as saying that the knee was not a problem at all after the spring game and that he had no problems cutting en route to catching 5 balls for 52 yards and 1 touchdown in the game, so hopefully he continues to be effective for the Gophers all season long.

Devin Crawford-Tufts, WR, Junior- Crawford-Tufts was a guy I previewed last year and he still hasn’t lived up to some of the hype he has gotten during his time with the Gophers. On paper he has the size (6’2”, 193) and the speed to be a legitimate contributor at receiver, but as a sophomore he only managed 16 receptions, 189 yards and 1 touchdown which was against Texas Tech in their bowl game. The potential is all there, it’s just a question of whether the lightbulb comes on for him or not. He’s usually a solid bet for a big play, but he and the Gophers’ quarterbacks just haven’t quite connected on them yet.

Drew Goodger, TE, Junior- Goodger returns for his junior year as the top tight end and the 6’5”, 265 pounder intrigues me as an every down prospect at the next level. I haven’t seen enough of him as a receiver (though I guess no one has, really. He only caught 13 balls for 155 yards and 3 TD’s last year) but he has definite upside as a blocker. There will be more footage to go over now that he’s the starter, but I am looking forward to seeing him as a blocker and as a receiver.

Ed Olson, OT, Senior- Olson is the returning starter with the most experience having started 27 games at left tackle for the Gophers. He is listed at 6’7”, 309 pounds and plays with an aggressive mean streak, but most importantly just needs to stay healthy. He has been a starter since Day 1 of his freshman year, but he missed 4 starts due to injury as a freshman, 2 starts due to injury in 2011, and 4 starts in 2012. He has never played and started an entire full season despite entering his fourth season as a starter, so staying healthy for a full year would benefit his draft stock significantly. I think he has the size and length to remain at tackle, but whether he will play at left or right at the next level remains up in the air. He needs to stay healthy and play more consistent, and if he does those things he could be the first Gopher offensive lineman drafted since Greg Eslinger (round 6) and Mark Setterstrom (round 7) were drafted in 2006.

Josh Campion, OT, Sophomore- Campion is a player I am less familiar with than some of these guys, but the guys at thedailygopher.com thought he might be one of the better prospects on the team, so I did my due diligence on him. He’s listed at 6’5”, 326 pounds and started all 13 games at right tackle last year despite being a redshirt freshman. I haven’t scouted him yet, but he’s definitely a player I’m going to keep my eye on when I watch the Gophers this season.

Zac Epping, OG/C, Junior- Epping is the most talented lineman the Gophers have in my opinion and despite being asked to move between both guard spots as well as center as a sophomore he played at a high level at all three. He should be locked into the left guard spot all year as long as he stays healthy, but showing the flexibility to play center will only make him more appealing to NFL teams. He is listed at 6’2”, 321 pounds and is going to be high on my list of interior linemen to watch this upcoming year.

Brian Bobek, C, Junior- Bobek is a transfer from Ohio State that is projected to start at Center for the Gophers this season. If he can solidify the position it will mean the Gophers will have a strong left side of Olson, Epping and Bobek at the pivot. Bobek is listed at 6’2”, 282 pounds but even though he was highly touted out of high school he missed most of the spring practices “due to illness” according to the Gophers. We’ll see if he wins the job outright in fall camp, but he’s probably got the inside track on Jon Christenson, the 6’4”, 306 pound guard/center who started 6 games last year for the Gophers.

Thieren Cockran, DE, Sophomore- Cockran has the highest upside of any of the Gophers’ defensive ends in my opinion. He is listed at 6’6”, 245, has a basketball background and a 6’9” wingspan to boot. According to his high school head coach he consistently timed in the 4.5-4.6 range in high school and even though he only had 1 sack last year I think he is ready to step up and help take some pressure off of Ra’Shede Hageman now that D.L. Wilhite has graduated. Cockran doesn’t have an abundance of experience, but he’s got the speed and length to be a dangerous pass rusher.

Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Senior- Hageman is without a doubt the Gophers’ top defensive prospect. He is a freak athlete listed at 6’6”, 311 pounds with incredible athleticism for his size. I think he has the potential to be a stud defensive end in a 3-4, but he is a very intriguing 4-3 defensive tackle as well. Either way, NFL teams are taking notice and if he can build on his impressive redshirt junior season from a year ago he could end up in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. Last year Hageman totaled 35 tackles, 6 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and 2 pass break-ups despite still learning the position. He still needs to learn how to play with better pad level because at 6’6” he tends to play too tall at times. Not only that, but he stands up too much out of his stance for my liking. He’s still raw, but I’d like to see him fire out of his stance and not stand up quite as much. He also is raw when it comes to shedding blocks and actively using his hands, but I believe that he can learn and improve that with time. What he does have is great size, length, raw power and he really flashes an impressive bull rush despite his issues with pad level. He hasn’t made a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage as a defensive tackle versus the run and I think that’s because he’s not a penetrator type, and that makes me think his ceiling might be highest at the defensive end position in a 3-4. He shows a consistently good motor which I really like, he is a pretty reliable tackler, and if his work ethic is as good as I think it is I think the sky is the limit for him. Don’t be surprised when he ends up in the 1st round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Derrick Wells, CB, Junior- Wells is a former safety turned corner who has the difficult task of playing the “boundary corner” in the Gophers defense. That means he will likely be left on an island 1 on 1 often over the course of the season, so the 6’0”, 206 pound corner will likely be tested during his junior season. Last year Wells totaled 74 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 10 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions. He will be playing a new position this year, but I was impressed with his ball skills when I watched him. NFL teams have been targeting bigger, stronger corners recently and I think Wells fits that bill. I’m excited to see what he can do as a full time starter at corner.

Eric Murray, CB, Sophomore- Murray hasn’t locked down the spot opposite Wells yet, but Phil Steele projected him to be the starter and I have read good things about him during spring practice. The 6’0”, 194 pound corner is a smooth athlete with good hips according to thedailygopher.com and while I can’t claim to have seen him play as a freshman he certainly seems to have upside if he got some first team reps during the spring. It remains to be seen if he will lock down a spot, but I’m intrigued.

Brock Vereen, FS, Senior- Vereen is a solid but not spectacular safety who may not be projected to be drafted right now but has a chance to improve his stock with a strong senior season. He’s listed at 6’0”, 202 pounds and had 64 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 9 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a junior in 2012. He is considered one of the leaders of the defense and has experience playing man to man coverage as well as dropping into zone thanks to his time spent at corner earlier in his career. He’s a likely undrafted free agent, but I think he has a chance to sneak up draft boards and give himself a chance to make a team this year.

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

Today I am previewing the Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavaliers made it to a bowl game last season but lost to Auburn 43-24. This year the Cavaliers are hoping to build on their 8-5 season in 2011, and Head Coach Mike London seems to be doing a good job. He took his 4-8 team in 2010 and helped mold it into an 8 win team just a year later, and now in 2012 they have a shot at a similar win total. They return their starting quarterback from a year ago in Michael Rocco and he has fresh competition at quarterback now that Alabama transfer Phillip Sims has been added to the fold. Rocco has the hold on the starting job for now, but Sims is a superior talent because of his athleticism and arm strength. Rocco won the job because of his command of the offense, but as Sims catches up to him in that regard it will be hard for London to keep a player with Sims’ talent off the field in my opinion. The competition in the 2013 spring should be a very good one, but for now Rocco will be the quarterback. The Cavaliers return two talented running backs in Perry Jones and Kevin Parks, and their offensive line returns three starters that I believe have NFL futures. The Cavaliers don’t have much experience at wide receiver, but returning receiving leader Tim Smith is poised for a break-out season, as is Darius Jennings, a true sophomore wide receiver with plenty of speed. The Cavaliers should have a pretty reliable offense this year, particularly if Rocco continues to improve and some of his relative unknown receiving options step up.

Strangely, the question marks surround the defense more than the offense. The defensive line has some talent headlined by captain Will Hill and defensive end Bill Schautz, and captains Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds anchor the linebackers. I wonder how much of a pass rush this defensive line will generate, and that makes me even more concerned about the Cavaliers’ secondary. They are starting a lot of inexperienced players, and return only one starter to that unit. They have potential, but their lack of in-game experience is likely going to rear its ugly head in the form of big plays this season, and that is going to hurt the Cavaliers in their quest to win an ACC Championship. I think UVA will go to a bowl game again, but I don’t think they will be able to unseat Virginia Tech for a trip to the ACC title game. With that, take a look at Virginia’s prospects to keep an eye on:

Michael Rocco, QB*- Rocco is a 6’3”, 225 pound junior who enters this season with 13 career starts that all came as a sophomore. He looked like the obvious choice to be the starting QB, but then Phillip Sims transferred to Virginia from Alabama after losing the starting job to AJ McCarron again. Rocco isn’t a great athlete but he was solid as a starter last year, passing for 2,671 yards (60.7% completion), 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He doesn’t have as strong of an arm as Sims does, though he probably has above average arm strength if I had to approximate, but it’s not ideal. I want to see him improve as a decision maker this year, which could very well happen given how often he is praised for his football IQ and intangibles. He’s tough and he’s an effective leader even if he isn’t a big “rah-rah” guy, and that could be what helps him keep his job more than anything else. It will be interesting to see how he does this season, because keeping a hold on his starting job will require improving on the field and some mental toughness off of it. Sims isn’t going to go away, and he will be nipping at his heels all season in all likelihood. Rocco should be named the starter even if he isn’t as physically gifted because he knows the offense so well and Sims is still playing catch-up in that regard.

Phillip Sims, QB**- Sims is the talented but often overlooked quarterback that is likely to back Rocco up this season. Sims was AJ McCarron’s back-up at Alabama and could never overtake him to win the job, and transferred to Virginia hoping to unseat Rocco and start here. That seems unlikely even though he gained a medical hardship waiver enabling him to play right away. That meant he was in a stiff competition for playing time with the entrenched starting quarterback without having a firm grasp of the offense. Sims doesn’t have the playbook mastered yet, and even though it is similar to the offense he ran at Alabama it will take him time to master the terminology that Rocco is already fluent in. Sims likely won’t unseat Rocco for the starting job now, but down the line once they are both more comfortable Sims could have a chance to do so. Sims is listed at 6’2”, 217 pounds and I believe he is only a redshirt sophomore. That means that even if Rocco holds him off until he graduates Sims should have a season to start as a senior unless Rocco leaves early or he manages to overtake him before he graduates. It should be an intriguing developing story because Sims has a lot of natural talent, he’s just not as advanced as Rocco is in the mental aspect of the game, particularly as it pertains to UVA’s offense.

Perry Jones, RB- Jones is returning for his senior year with the Cavaliers having started 24 games in his career. He’s listed at 5’8”, 185 pounds but is pretty filled out considering his small frame. He is everywhere on Virginia’s offense, rushing 184 times for 915 yards and 5 touchdowns (5.0 ypc) and catching 38 passes for 506 yards and 3 touchdowns as a junior. Jones may be a smaller back but he runs hard and with authority, doesn’t back down from contact, and has plenty of shiftiness and quickness as a runner. He doesn’t have gamebreaking straight line speed, and he may not have the frame to take a consistent pounding as a feature back at the next level, but his ability to run the ball effectively as well as catch the ball out of the backfield should result in him being drafted in the 5th-6th round range if not higher next April.

Kevin Parks, RB**- Parks may only be a sophomore but he’s got plenty of upside and will likely be the feature back after Jones graduates. He’s a shorter back like Jones as he is listed at 5’8”, but he weighs just shy of 200 pounds, and is listed at 195. That’s a lot of muscle to pack onto that short frame, and he almost reminds me of Doug Martin in that respect (aka, the Muscle Hampster). Predictably Parks runs hard, can’t be taken down by arm tackles, has some burst to hit the hole and has good leg drive. He isn’t on Jones’ level as a receiver out of the backfield, catching just 11 passes for 82 yards and 1 touchdown as a freshman, but I would be surprised if he didn’t improve in that regard. He’s got a lot of ability and despite playing second fiddle to Jones last year he rushed for 709 yards and 9 touchdowns (4.7 ypc). He may not be the starter yet, but he’s going to get plenty of touches this year and will almost certainly be the go-to guy at running back in 2013.

Tim Smith, WR*- Smith is the top returning receiver coming back for the Cavaliers and is primed and ready for a break-out season if he can stay healthy. He lost the 2010 season to injury when he had to have reconstructive ankle surgery, and despite not being 100% last season from being “nicked up” he was far and away the best deep threat the Cavaliers had on their roster. He caught 33 balls for 565 yards and 3 touchdowns, averaging 17.1 yards per reception. He’s listed at 6’0”, 185 pounds and has plenty of speed to threaten teams vertically and has a 4.4 speed in the 40 yard dash. His sophomore season was just the beginning of his production and he is ready to make even more big plays this season. He has assumed a significant leadership role with the wide receivers because he is the most experienced of the entire lot, and has been pushing and motivating them all to get better. He is committed to improving and his goal is to get 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns this season even though only two Virginia receivers have eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving since 1990. He was actually high school teammates with Phillip Sims which provides an interesting dynamic for the quarterback competition that I imagine will be ongoing. Smith works hard, watches a lot of film and has become a leader all of which I love to hear. Now he just has to stay healthy and he should break out this season.

Darius Jennings, WR**- Jennings is a 5’11”, 165 pound receiver who is entering his true sophomore season but he has explosive speed much like Smith does. He had 20 receptions for 238 yards and 1 touchdown as a sophomore, but his biggest game came against Miami when he caught two screen passes but turned them into 78 combined yards and his only touchdown of the season. He’s dangerous in the open field and was utilized as the team’s primary kick returner last year, totaling a 20 yard average on his 30 runbacks. He seems poised to step up as well, and has reportedly been learning a lot from the leader of the receivers Tim Smith. He isn’t very big like Smith and he has plenty of speed and burst, so look out for them to turn a lot of short receptions into big gains thanks to their ability to generate yards after the catch.

Colter Phillips, TE- Phillips has 26 career starts but despite that he has never been much of a receiving threat, and he only had 3 receptions for 15 yards as a junior. He looked like he was ready to step up as a sophomore though, as he caught 18 receptions for 155 yards and 3 touchdowns. It remains to be seen how much of a role he will play in the passing attack this season, but hopefully he will be more involved. He is listed at 6’6”, 245 pounds and has the athletic ability and hands to be a productive tight end, he just needs to stay on the field.

Oday Aboushi, OT- Aboushi is the top draft prospect on Virginia’s roster right now and he has a legitimate shot at being a 1st round pick if he continues to improve as a senior. He enters his senior season with 25 career starts (20 coming at left tackle) and has prototypical left tackle size at 6’6”, 310 pounds and has the athleticism to stick at the position in the NFL. He is a hard worker and continues to improve, but he isn’t a very good run blocker at this point. That won’t deter teams from drafting him if he shows he can be a quality starting left tackle at the next level, but if teams are wishy washy about him sticking there or moving back to right tackle then his less impressive run blocking will drag his overall grade down. It will be interesting to see how he does as a senior because he is one of the top senior offensive tackles in the country.

Morgan Moses, OT*- Moses is a mountain of a man who enters his junior season with 20 career starts including 19 at Right Tackle (the other at right guard). He seems like a prototypical right tackle in the NFL to me, and is listed at 6’6”, 335 pounds and after reportedly weighing 350 pounds last season. He has surprisingly good feet and I think he can stay on the outside at the next level based on what I’ve seen so far. I’m not quite convinced he can be a left tackle in the NFL though. However, after Aboushi graduates if Moses doesn’t declare early he will likely slide over to left tackle as a senior like he did while Aboushi missed spring practice this season. Moses is very talented and has a lot of potential and is a potential 1st round pick in his own right, and forms one of the best offensive tackle combos in the entire country.

Luke Bowanko, OG*- Bowanko is returning for his second full season as a starter after starting all 13 games at right guard as a sophomore. He’s listed at 6’6”, 295 pounds and figures to get even bigger as he continues to fill out his frame. Bowanko has impressive speed and movement skills for an offensive lineman and reportedly ran a 4.8 40 yard dash when he was a junior in high school. Not only is he skilled on the football field but he works hard in the classroom and chose Virginia largely because of academics. He seems like a great kid and he’s an easy guy to root for, and I’m excited to see how he plays this year. This offensive line returns three starters and all three have NFL futures. Bowanko might be under the radar right now, but he won’t stay that way for long.

Bill Schautz, DE- Schautz is a high effort defensive end who has some injury question marks. He broke his leg in two places last season against Florida State and spent the entire offseason rehabbing to try to come back for the season. He is supposedly 100% now, and that is a tribute to his impressive work ethic and determination. He’s a senior now and if he can stay healthy for the entire season he could easily surpass his last season totals of 28 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 sacks and 2 pass break-ups. He’s got a great motor and always plays with great intensity, and has reportedly taken the top recruit in the state of Virginia, Eli Harold, under his wing. The two are roommates and if Harold, who has been timed at 4.46 in the 40 yard dash, begins to emulate Schautz’ work ethic and motor the sky will be the limit for him. There’s no word on whether Harold will play this season or not, but even if he doesn’t the lessons he will learn from Schautz will be valuable. He’s a key cog on the Cavaliers defense and while he might not be more than a late rounder or undrafted free agent at this point his leadership and work ethic will prove valuable if he does get a shot at the NFL.

Will Hill, DT- Hill is returning for his senior year with the Cavaliers and the defensive tackle has been named a team captain for the 2012 season. He is listed at 6’4”, 280 pounds and despite only having 1 career start he returns as a starting defensive tackle and a leader at that. Last season he had 36 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 2 pass break-ups and 1 forced fumble. I think he is ready to surpass all of those totals as a senior. He’s a bit undersized and could stand to add some more weight to fill out his frame, but he’s flying way under the radar since he has so little starting and playing experience beyond last season. He’s flashed some hand usage thus far in his career, but if he can continue to improve his hand usage and get more violent to shed blocks quicker and more decisively he would make more impact plays. He’s got a good motor and work ethic, so I think he’s capable of those improvements. If he can step up it would really help Virginia’s defense as a whole, both in run defense and in pass defense.

Steve Greer, MLB- Greer might be the top prospect on Virginia’s defense. He is listed at 6’2”, 225 pounds and he led the team in tackles last season with 103 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks and 4 pass break-ups. He has 24 career starts as he started as a freshman and as a junior, but lost his starting job as a sophomore despite playing in every game. He’s going to be the starter in the middle again this year, and figures to be one of the leaders of the defense along with Will Hill and Bill Schautz and was named a team captain for the 2012 season. He’s a tough player that doesn’t have great range though, and even though he’s a good tackler he is relatively unproven in coverage. He has some work to do to get drafted, but he’s got the attitude and work ethic to make a NFL roster even if he doesn’t get drafted.

LaRoy Reynolds, OLB- Reynolds was the second leading tackler on the Cavaliers last season with 88 tackles, 8 TFL and 1 pass break-up as a junior. He’s listed at 6’2”, 230 pounds and has been named a captain for the 2012 season. He’s not quite as fundamentally sound as Greer is as a tackler, but he has more explosiveness as a hitter and is no stranger to aggressive take-downs. He’s a little more physically imposing despite their similar measurables, but he tackles high more than I would like which can lead to missed tackles if it isn’t corrected. He contributes on special teams as well which should help him make a NFL roster even if he doesn’t get drafted.

Demetrious Nicholson, CB**- Nicholson started 13 games last year as a true freshman and is the only returning starter in the secondary for the Cavaliers which is going to be a serious concern for their defense this season. The pressure is squarely on the front 7 to make things as easy as possible for the secondary as they start not one, not two, not three but FOUR sophomores including three true sophomores in their defensive backfield. Nicholson is easily the most proven commodity having started last season as a true freshman as he earned 2nd team freshman All-American honors as he totaled 60 tackles, 2 TFL, 8 pass deflections and 2 interceptions. He is the only defender returning with an interception in 2011 and is going to be under intense pressure. Even if he steps up and plays well teams will just avoid him and challenge the other unproven members of the Cavalier secondary. Nicholson is listed at 5’11” but only weighs 165 pounds, so durability may be a concern for him until he can fill out his frame, but he has plenty of talent.

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 Duke Blue Devils. We all know the Duke Football program has had it’s struggles, and David Cutcliffe and his staff are still searching for a bowl appearance. They’re hoping that 2012 is the year, but I’m not sure it will be right now. They return a 3rd year starter in Sean Renfree at QB which is certainly encouraging, but he hasn’t ever had a very reliable run game to support him and that led to him throwing 434 passes for only 2,891 yards last season. The offensive line should be a solid but unspectacular group, and if they can help Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson run the ball more effectively it should pay dividends for Renfree and the passing game. That would certainly please Conner Vernon as he attempts to chase ACC records as a wide receiver. The offense should be solid but not spectacular, but the real question mark is the defense.

The Duke defense actually has a few pretty talented players, but they have struggled to stay healthy and there isn’t a lot of quality depth to speak of. Two of the defense’s best players, defensive end Kenny Anunike and outside linebacker Kelby Brown, both suffered knee injuries last season and Duke just didn’t have the talent to replace them. I’m not convinced this is going to be the year that Duke gets to a bowl game, but I’ve been wrong before and I hate to doubt a team that’s been an underdog for so long like Duke has. Regardless, here are the prospects to keep an eye on for the Blue Devils:

Sean Renfree, QB- Renfree is a 6’5”, 230 pound quarterback who returns for his 3rd season as the Blue Devils’ starting quarterback with 23 career starts. Last season he didn’t exactly blow the doors off the ACC as he passed for 2,891 yards, completed 65% of his 434 attempts and threw 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It’s a positive trend from his first season as a starter as far as efficiency (18 TD’s, 19 INTs and 62% completion) but he threw for 570 less yards as a junior. He’s not a top prospect, but his combination of size, arm strength and football IQ will make him an attractive developmental prospect. I think Renfree is a near guarantee to get an invite to the East-West Shrine Game, and if that happens I will very much be looking forward to seeing him in person. If I’m lucky I’ll be at the Duke-UNC game this year to see him play well before that. Renfree is a draftable player, so it will be interesting to see how much he can boost his stock as a senior.

Desmond Scott, RB- Scott is a smaller, speedier back who is listed at 5’9”, 190 pounds. I wouldn’t normally have a problem with that frame since he has a respectable amount of weight packed onto it, but Scott has had a lot of issues staying healthy and durable throughout his career at Duke. He’s a talented back with plenty of speed and burst, and he catches the ball well out of the backfield, but unless he can stay healthy this year he won’t get drafted.

Juwan Thompson, RB*- Thompson filled in quite well for Scott while he was injured last season, rushing 110 times for 457 yards and 7 touchdowns as a sophomore. Thompson is a very different back than Scott, as he is listed at 5’11” and tips the scales at 230 pounds. He’s the thunder to Scott’s lightning, and I’m interested to see him play more this season. He really stepped up for them as a sophomore, so hopefully he can build on that as a junior.

Conner Vernon, WR- Vernon has been Duke’s most reliable pass catcher for what feels like forever, and now he enters his senior season with 32 career starts and is coming off a 70 catch, 956 yard, 6 touchdown season as a junior. He’s Renfree’s top target without a doubt, and runs good routes despite his lack of elite burst or acceleration. He has very reliable hands and catches the ball well outside of his frame which is critical for any receiver in my opinion. He’s a very fundamentally sound player, and while he won’t blow you away with his 40 yard dash time or any of his measurables he will come to play and offer a reliable pair of hands for anyone who throws a ball his way. That might not get him drafted very early, or perhaps even at all, but I think he will make a NFL roster.

Laken Tomlininson, OG**- Tomlinson is one of Duke’s best offensive linemen if he isn’t already the best. He’s young, and is entering his redshirt sophomore season this year, but the 6’3”, 315 pound right guard has plenty of upside. He’s nasty and aggressive which I love, but he is still raw and needs to improve his hand placement and his overall technique at this point. He’s got the upside though, so it will be interesting to see how well he takes coaching because if he works hard he could improve a lot and be one of the highest draft picks Duke has had in two decades.

Takoby Cofield, OT**- I know nothing about Cofield other than the fact that he is listed at 6’4”, 310 pounds, he started 2 games at left tackle as a redshirt freshman, and his name is actually Takoby.

Kenny Anunike, DE- Anunike is a converted tight end and despite getting a medical redshirt after starting only 3 games last season he still led the team in sacks with 4. That should paint the picture of how desperate Duke is for a pass rush, and that’s why Anunike coming back healthy is so critical for them. If he can stay healthy for the entire year he could turn his raw athleticism into 6-8 sacks or maybe even more if he’s worked on his technique. He’s listed at 6’5”, 255 pounds and if he stays healthy this year he has a chance to get drafted. Whether he does or not depends on how well his knee injury has healed and whether he is still just an athlete playing defensive end or a defensive end with a lot of athletic ability.

Kelby Brown, OLB*- Brown is one of Duke’s best defenders and it showed as he had 65 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and 3 pass break-ups as a sophomore. He injured the ACL in his right knee on November 20th against Georgia Tech but reinjured the knee again in Februrary. I’m not sure what his status is for this upcoming season, but I think the best choice would be to sit out the year or to take a medical redshirt. He is just now 6 months removed from the injury and that’s definitely not enough time to recover from an injury that severe, especially since he reinjured it just a couple months after the original surgery. We’ll see if he plays this year, but if he does he absolutely won’t be at 100%.

Ross Cockrell, CB*- Cockrell is Duke’s best cover corner and is likely their top returning defensive back overall. Cockrell is listed at 6’0”, 180 pounds and has 4.5-4.55 speed according to the listing I found, but he has quality ball skills. As a redshirt freshman he totaled 7 pass break-ups and 3 interceptions and followed that up with 56 tackles, 1 TFL, 9 pass break-ups and 1 more interception as a sophomore. Now he is entering his junior season and while he may not be an athletic freak I think he has some potential as a NFL corner. He has to add weight in my opinion and work on his technique, but he has some fairly intriguing tools.

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 Miami Hurricanes. Miami has had a lot of trouble off the field, both from potential scandal and sanction and because they lost a shocking amount of juniors to early declaration for the NFL Draft. For some it worked out ok, for others it didn’t. Regardless, it left Miami with a relatively inexperienced roster that only projects to start a few seniors on either side of the ball (5 by my count on both offense and defense). That means some growing pains are in order, but I think it will make them a much more competitive team in a year or two. They have the strong armed Stephen Morris at quarterback who will hopefully breathe a breath of fresh air into the Hurricanes offense after watching Jacory Harris bumble around for so many years. They also have underrated running back Mike James back in the fold, and he is being severely overlooked by the college football community and NFL Draftniks. He’s going to have a big year this year. They are relatively inexperienced at wideout, but they have young talent in the form of Allen Hurns and Phillip Dorsett. Their offensive line is actually shockingly good, and they have four players listed at over 6’5″, 310 pounds (the only one who isn’t is their center who is 6’4″, 290 pounds) and return some experience as well. Their offense should be fine, but probably not that explosive unless Morris surprises and multiple receivers break out for them this season.

I’m not sure what to expect from the defense on the other hand. They have some talent, but I have a feeling they are going to go through some growing pains just like the offense will. The unit is highlighted by star defensive end Anthony Chickillo who tied for the team lead in sacks as a true freshman with 5 and future stud Middle Linebacker Denzel Perryman. Ray-Ray Armstrong is no longer with the team, and that means an inexperienced player will likely be replacing him in the backfield next to elder statesmen Vaughn Telemaque. I’m not sure how this defense is going to perform, but if I had to guess I’d say they will probably be an average unit this season. And with that, here are the prospects to keep an eye on:

Stephen Morris, QB*- Morris is a solid but not spectacular college quarterback and I don’t think he’s much of a NFL prospect at this point. He’s listed at 6’2”, 214 pounds and is pretty decently filled out. He’s got some experience starting, and honestly I would have preferred playing him to Jacory Harris last season. You knew what you were getting with Harris, and I would have rather let Morris try to grow and develop but that’s just me! Now Morris is the starter and he is coming into the season with 5 career starts at quarterback. He wasn’t overly efficient as a freshman, and he missed time in spring practice, but it will be interesting to see how strong his command of the offense is since he has been in and out of games so often his first two years.

James is replacing Lamar Miller as the feature back and I expect him to open a lot of eyes this season. He’s very underrated.

Mike James, RB- James was overshadowed by Lamar Miller last season, but he rushed for 275 yards on just 72 carries and 7 touchdowns. He also had 9 receptions for 80 yards and another touchdown. I am actually a big Mike James fan. He’s got the size you love in a running back at a compact 5’11”, 222 pounds and he has a very strong lower half. He doesn’t have the elite speed that Miller does, he’s probably more of a 4.48-4.5 guy, and he doesn’t have the same explosion and acceleration. However, he has fantastic leg drive and absolutely doesn’t go down to arm tackles. He was reportedly struggling with turf toe last season which might explain why he didn’t look as explosive to me, and Al Golden was quoted as saying that he looked faster and quicker in the spring. If that’s the case then James is going to shoot up draft boards this year because his vision, leg drive, shiftiness to make guys miss, his ability to push a pile, balance and his tendency to lower his pads and initiate contact with the defender will endear him to evaluators. And if he’s faster and quicker then he is going to rush for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns easily in my opinion. He has soft hands and can catch the ball away from his body even though he hasn’t been used much in that capacity outside of screens. I haven’t seen him in pass protection a lot, but when I have he has shown good effort as a blocker and has even lined up at fullback at times and blocked for Lamar Miller. He’s a complete back who is ready to be a top 100 pick. Keep an eye on him, I’m a big James fan and he’s easy to root for, especially since his mother died in a car accident a couple of years ago. I’m looking forward to him blowing up and shooting up draft boards this season.

Allen Hurns, WR*- Hurns is a 6’3”, 190 pound junior who had 31 receptions for 415 yards and 4 touchdowns in 7 starts as a sophomore last season. He’s got 4.4 speed and he may be ready for a breakout season this year. He’s the leading returning receiver and with Tommy Streeter, Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd moving on to the NFL there is going to be a lot of production to replace. I’m excited to see if Hurns can step up and become the go-to guy for Morris. I really think he is capable of filling that void.

Phillip Dorsett, WR**- Dorsett is a speedster who supposedly has sub 4.4 speed. He’s undersized at 5’10”, 186 pounds but his speed and burst compensates for it. Not only will he likely play frequently in the slot, but he will be replacing Travis Benjamin as the team’s primary return man on kick-offs and punts. I haven’t seen him before since he is just a true sophomore, but he’s explosive and he’s going to make an impact in the slot and on special teams this season.

Clive Walford, TE**- Walford may be the next Miami tight end to head to the NFL and make an impact. He’s listed at 6’4”, 250 pounds and has 4.6-4.7 speed. Walford was a redshirt freshman last season and only had 18 receptions for 172 yards and 1 touchdown, but I’m intrigued by him and I think that he is going to build off of his 8 starts as a freshman and take big steps forward as a sophomore. Technically he will be eligible for the draft after this season, but I think he will be in Miami for at least two more years. Keep an eye on him, I have a feeling Morris will be getting the ball to him frequently this season.

Malcolm Bunche, OT**- Bunche is a redshirt sophomore this season and he is the guy who has held off Seantrel Henderson from being the left tackle (in addition to Henderson’s injury issues). Bunche is no small lineman either, he’s listed at 6’7”, 325 pounds and while he only had 1 start last year he played in 8 games despite struggling with a back injury last year. According to offensive line coach Art Kehoe he was the ‘Canes best offensive lineman in the spring and is also the strongest player on the ‘Canes, allegedly having done 36 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press despite being only a sophomore! Bunche strikes me as a potential NFL left tackle because despite his size he has pretty good feet and really seems to “get it.” He supposedly watches a lot of film, makes sure he eats healthy, and frequently does extra work with star defensive end Anthony Chickillo. Bunche has never started a game at left tackle, and I’m sure he will have some growing pains at the position but I think he has a lot of upside.

Seantrel Henderson, OT*- Henderson was a top recruit who actually played high school football in Minnesota. He was heavily recruited and was considered the top offensive tackle recruit in the country at the time. When I watched him in high school it was evident he was dominating because he was bigger than everyone else, and I never thought he could play left tackle in college. I also questioned how well he would transition to blocking players that he can’t dominate quite as easily thanks to his size, length and brute strength. We haven’t gotten much of a taste for that as he has only started 11 games in two years with Miami and 9 of those came as a redshirt freshman. He has dealt with injuries and while he has a lot of upside thanks to his size and strength he needs to stay healthy and keep his head on straight if he’s going to have any chance of living up to his potential. Because of how highly he was recruited many people think he has 1st round potential, but Bunche is the tackle on Miami who has upside that high. Henderson has a lot of unrealized potential, but I’m not sure he is ever going to live up to his high school billing.

Jon Feliciano, OG**- I don’t know much about Feliciano’s game since he was a redshirt freshman last season, but he started 8 games at right tackle and didn’t allow a single sack. The 6’5”, 320 pound lineman has moved inside to left guard, and should help form a formidable left side playing next to Malcolm Bunche. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to playing on the opposite side of the line and inside at guard, but his size and work ethic makes him a very intriguing player.

Brandon Linder, OG*- Linder is another mammoth sized offensive lineman who is projected to start for the ‘Canes this season. He is the fourth offensive lineman who is listed at 6’5” or taller while weighing 310 pounds or more. Linder is listed at 6’6”, 310 pounds and still has plenty of room to add weight to his frame. He enters his junior season with 14 career starts, including 12 last season all at right guard. He’s considered the leader of the offensive line since he is the most experienced member of the front five. I’m not that familiar with his game, but he should help anchor a surprisingly talented offensive line.

Two of my favorite ‘Canes; Mike James spraying Anthony Chickillo with a water bottle during practice. Both will have to play great this year for Miami to go to a bowl game.

Anthony Chickillo, DE**- Chickillo is my favorite prospect on the entire Hurricanes roster. He’s only a true sophomore but he is listed at 6’4”, 258 pounds and was tied for the team lead with 5 sacks last season while starting 9 games as a true freshman. He’s going to be a 1st round pick in a couple years and I can’t wait to see what he does this season. He’s already assuming leadership of the defensive line thanks to all the losses they sustained last season, and I think his combination of size, athleticism, work ethic and intangibles are going to culminate in at least two more special seasons before he leaves for the NFL Draft. If you don’t know him, watch him.

Darius Smith, DT- Smith has only flashed some potential at Miami, but his previous listing of 6’2”, 360 pounds meant that while he is a short, squatty player who has the potential to clog up the middle of the defense he also needed to improve his conditioning considerably. He had 21 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack and 1 pass break-up during his first season with the ‘Canes after transferring from a junior college last season. His conditioning should be much better this year, as he is supposedly weighing in at about 324 pounds now and should move better and be more explosive this season. He is very strong and has big, strong hands that he uses to effectively occupy blockers to plug up the middle of the defense. That earned him the nickname “the Plug” and if he can show that he can stand up to double teams and collapse the pocket as a pass rusher he could move up draft boards this season.

Curtis Porter, DT*- Porter is a 6’1”, 300 pound junior defensive tackle who has a lot of ability but has had a tough go of it with injuries. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2010, and then in August of 2011 he broke a bone in his finger (it actually broke the skin) and unfortunately got infected not once but twice after that. He’s finally healthy and ready to start this season, and he’s got a lot of potential. Despite the injury to his knee two years ago his teammate Darius Smith said that Porter is the quickest and most explosive off the ball of all of the Miami defensive linemen. He only had 10 tackles last year because of his problems with his finger, but hopefully he can stay healthy and prove to be a disruptive force on the Hurricanes defensive line.

Denzel Perryman, MLB**- Perryman is a 6’0”, 225 pound linebacker who had a great season as a true freshman. He started 5 games but played in 12 and totaled 69 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 1 sack. Some have gone so far as to compare him to Miami Hurricanes great and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis this offseason. I won’t go that far, but Perryman has boatloads of potential and should do a fantastic job replacing Sean Spence at middle linebacker for the ‘Canes. He plays aggressive and loves to hit, and stepping into the middle linebacker spot as a true sophomore is a testament to his ability. He may not be Ray Lewis yet, but he did have similar statistics as Ray did as a freshman at Miami and he also wears #52, just like Ray. Perhaps the stars are aligning for the second coming of Ray Lewis, but if Perryman plays as well as Ray on the field and comes anywhere close to his intangibles and leadership capability the ‘Canes will have a special, special player on their hands. I look forward to seeing how he does this season.

Ramon Buchanan, OLB- Buchanan is back for another season with Miami after receiving a medical hardship waiver for a knee injury he sustained last season. Hopefully he is back to 100%, and the 6’1”, 222 pound Buchanan can end his Miami career on a high note. Like many players recruited to Miami he has tons of athletic ability and is very rangy, but struggles to get off blocks once engaged and prefers to avoid blockers and work through the trash to make plays. If he’s all the way back from his knee injury he could be in for a surprisingly good season, and his experience will be helpful as there are only a couple other projected starters on defense that are seniors.

Brandon McGee, CB- McGee is another very talented Hurricane who came to Miami with high expectations but has yet to live up to them. He’s listed at 6’0”, 190 pounds and has a lot of speed and smooth hips, but all of his athletic ability hasn’t translated into production on the field. He had 38 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 pass break-ups and 1 interception last season, but a player with his ability is capable of more than that. It will be interesting to see if he steps up his play this year, as I think his technique and awareness could use improving. Whether that happens or not will determine whether he’s a late bloomer or a player who never put it together. If the light starts to come on some teams will begin to wonder if his best football is ahead of him, while others will worry that he was motivated by a NFL pay day.

Vaughn Telemaque, SS- Telemaque is the most experienced returning defender for the Hurricanes as he has 36 career starts. The 6’2”, 211 pound safety has a lot of potential and is a rangy defender that tackles well, but he only had 59 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 pass break-up and an interception as a junior. I expect more from him and so does the rest of the Miami coaching staff and fan base. He’s got the upside of a top-100 pick, I’m just not sure whether or not he will live up to that this season.

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 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. The Yellow Jackets are poised for another productive year running the football with their triple option offense, and with an experienced and deep offensive line returning they have a chance to lead the nation in rushing yardage. They are waiting for a receiver or two to emerge, but as usual they have one or two ready to step up and stretch the field when the team wants or needs to pass. Tevin Washington, Orwin Smith and David Sims are the heart of the running game, and the offensive line is led by Omoregie Uzzi, Jay Finch and Will Jackson.

The defense is the unit that needs to step up, as they haven’t been great thus far under Al Groh’s base 3-4 defense. This year they have some unheralded talent along the defensive line along with a couple potential stars at linebacker in Jeremiah Attaochu and Quayshawn Nealy. In the secondary they have two quality corners in Rod Sweeting and Louis Young, and an up-and-coming safety in Isaiah Johnson. It all starts with the run defense, and if that improves and the pass rush gets a boost from Attaochu and others then the secondary’s job will get easier. It will be interesting to see how they do, and I predict that they will win 8-9 games and finish 3rd in the Coastal Division. And now, here are the prospects to keep an eye on:

Tevin Washington, QB- Most people are familiar with Washington as he is the face of Georgia Tech’s vaunted triple option offense, and consequently he carries the ball the most since he touches it on every play. Last season he passed just 150 times, completing 74 passes for 1,652 yards, 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He ran the ball 92 times more than he threw it, rushing 242 times for 986 yards and 11 touchdowns (4.1 ypc). This year the 6’1”, 205 pound quarterback/ball carrier enters his senior season and it will be interesting to see what he can produce. He’s obviously not a NFL quarterback, but he figures to get some attention as a running back prospect. The obvious problem with that is that he will have to get used to being handed the ball rather than touching it on every snap, but his experience reading keys and deciding whether to keep the ball or hand it off should help him transition to reading holes as a running back. It’s a tough transition, and it’s hard on evaluators, and that likely won’t help Washington’s case. I don’t know where to project him as a prospect right now, but gun to my head I’d say he’s a late round guy at this point.

Orwin Smith, RB- Smith is entering his senior season and he is coming off of a productive season, totaling 615 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 61 carries in addition to 13 receptions, 306 yards and another touchdown. Smith’s touches were limited, but his impact wasn’t. Now he is in his final season with the Yellow Jackets and he is being assessed for how well he transitions to the NFL. The problem is that all of those big plays are produced because of the scheme, not because he is a Reggie Bush/Barry Sanders caliber athlete. He is in the 4.5 range, and while that is respectable for a 6’0”, 202 pound running back it doesn’t quite line up with his 10.1 ypc average or his 23.5 average yards per reception. He contributes on kick-offs as well which helps him, but right now he’s a late round guy that is productive as a result of the scheme he plays in, and that’s going to be a tough designation to shake.

David Sims, RB*- Sims has a little bit of an easier time being projected to the NFL as he is playing the “B-Back” position that Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen both parlayed into shots at the NFL while Smith plays the “A-Back” position which doesn’t transition as well. The B-Back is lined up directly behind the quarterback on a typical play, and will get the ball handed to him on the first read the quarterback is asked to make. Therefore, while it is a simple play and he doesn’t usually have to do a lot of reading of the defense, he is at least used to getting hand-offs, finding room to run and running with good pad level between the tackles. That makes the transition to the NFL easier, and Sims has a shot at the NFL. He’s listed at 6’0”, 218 pounds and has a listed 40 yard dash time in the 4.5’s (4.59 currently) but he has some potential as a power back. He was new to the position last year, so it will be interesting to see what damage he can do in his second year starting at the B-back spot.

Jeff Greene, WR**- Greene is the next receiver in line who is expected to take the nation by surprise with his combination of size, length and athletic ability. He didn’t have a single catch last year, but at 6’4”, 200 pounds and with 12 games of experience playing, even if he went without a catch, he is poised to break-out this year now that Stephen Hill has moved on to the NFL. He may not run a sub 4.4 like Hill did, but the coaching staff is excited about his upside and they expect a lot from him. He could very well lead GT in receiving this year despite not having a single catch a year ago. Only at Georgia Tech.

Jeremy Moore, WR*- Moore is even more under the radar than his teammate Green is, but he is listed at 6’3”, 180 pounds and while he wasn’t penciled into the starting line-up in the spring he fought his way up to a starting position and impressed the coaches. His former teammate Tyler Melton (take note, people who have first names that start with T and the last name Melton tend to be exceedingly brilliant) has said that he expects “Jeremy to be the surprise of the year” this season for Georgia Tech. That’s high praise, but according to Melton he has the speed, quickness and hands capable of surprising people this year. Most notably he said that he “doesn’t body catch. He snags everything out of the air.” That’s huge, especially for playing in this offense, because being able to catch less than accurate passes from triple-option quarterbacks means you have a bigger catch radius for them to throw to. That means more possible receptions, and those are few and far between in this run-first offense. Keep an eye on Moore, he has had trouble with injuries at Georgia Tech but I’m excited that he is finally getting his shot.

Ray Beno, OT*- Beno is the left tackle on the Yellow Jackets and he returns for his junior season with 12 career starts, all at left tackle, but according to Phil Steele he has experience playing at every spot along the offensive line. I was wondering if I should mention him or not, but that kind of versatility is quite rare and NFL teams are sure to take notice of that even if he doesn’t grade out as much more than a late rounder. At 6’2”, 290 pounds Beno is almost certainly going to be an interior lineman in the NFL but the versatility to play all over the offensive line is extremely important. I haven’t watched him before, but keep an eye on him over the next two years.

Omoregie Uzzi, OG- Uzzi may be the top NFL prospect on the Yellow Jackets right now, and I think he’s going to be considered a top 50 pick by the time the season is over. He has 24 career starts, all at right guard, and will be playing right guard again this season. He’s listed at 6’3”, 300 pounds and is a quality run blocker that is a natural knee bender, plays with good pad level and has some nastiness to him as well as a strong initial punch. I haven’t seen him much in pass protection, but then again that is bound to happen given the nature of Georgia Tech’s offense. His run blocking will garner him plenty of attention though, and if he can show some ability as a pass blocker his stock won’t dip out of the 2nd round.

Will Jackson, OG*- Jackson is a 6’3”, 285 pound junior who has 22 career starts all at left guard for the Yellow Jackets. He’s not a top prospect as of right now, but he’s a solid contributor who is someone to keep an eye on. He was a 1st team Freshman All American when he started 9 games as a freshman, and he returns to an experienced group as a junior. He isn’t the most physically imposing kid, but he’s tough and experienced. That will only become more evident as he continues to start more games, and he could realistically leave Georgia Tech with close to 50 starts by the end of his senior year.

Jay Finch, C*- Finch is the so-called “anchor” of the offensive line and returns for his junior season with 15 career starts, 12 of them at Center. He’s considered to have quality leadership, though I haven’t seen enough of him to know how often he makes line calls and adjustments to blocking schemes pre-snap. He’s considered to be a good athlete with plenty of quickness and good footwork. I haven’t seen much of him up to this point, but I’m expecting him to impress me this year as he has been named to the Rimington Watch List for the top center in the country.

Izaan Cross, DE- Cross is a 6’4”, 292 pound senior defensive end in Al Groh’s 3-4 defensive scheme. He returns for his senior season with plenty of experience in the form of 28 career starts, but he wasn’t as effective as some expected last year when he totaled 32 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 forced fumble and 4 pass deflections. The previous year he had 41 tackles, 5 TFL and 2.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and four pass break-ups. It’s worth considering that in a 3-4 scheme like Groh’s the defensive line is expected to occupy blockers so that the linebackers can fill the gaps and stuff the run by tackling ball carriers in the gaps or forcing runs to be strung out towards the sidelines, so the defensive ends aren’t expected to be extremely productive on the stat line. Still, the dip in production was noticeable and it will be interesting to see how Cross does this year. I’m not that familiar with his game yet, so I’m interested to see whether he projects better to a 3-4 at DE or whether he might be better if he can penetrate upfield as a defensive tackle in a 4-3.

TJ Barnes, DT- Barnes is a gargantuan defensive tackle who will play nose tackle in Georgia Tech’s 3-4 defense this season. He was highly touted coming out of high school and during his redshirt year he wreaked consistent havoc playing on the scout team, causing coaches to salivate at his potential. He hasn’t lived up to it yet, however, and this season is his last shot. He returns for his senior season with just 3 career starts and despite playing in 13 games last season he only registered 11 tackles, 0.5 TFL and 1 sack. His conditioning has been a problem the past three years, but this year the 6’7”, 347 pound nose tackle is supposed to be in significantly better shape coming into this season. He spent extra time doing cardio and other conditioning workouts to get in better shape. It appears to be working, as offensive guard Will Jackson has claimed that Barnes is much quicker and more explosive off the ball. He’s got all the size and strength you could ask for in a nose tackle, particularly in a 3-4 defense, and if he has improved his conditioning enough he could be a very disruptive force for Georgia Tech this season. The problem with evaluating him will be evaluating if the light turned on just in time to boost his draft stock and his pay check, or whether the light came on and he is ready to potentially dominate as he gets in better shape and improves his hand usage and technique even more. I tend to shy away from one year wonders, but first Barnes has to have that one-year wonder season before we can try to determine whether it was a flash in the pan or not. Here’s hoping he has a great year and proves to be a dominant force in the middle of the Yellow Jacket defense.

Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB*- If Uzzi is the top prospect on Georgia Tech then Attaochu is a close second. The 6’3”, 235 pound outside linebacker possesses impressive athleticism, change of direction burst and edge speed to threaten offensive tackles off the edge. My problem with his game is his struggles once he is engaged. Like many talented edge rushers with impressive athleticism he has been able to get by on his athleticism alone, and hasn’t needed to bulk up to fight off blockers once he is engaged. He’s not a complete pass rusher yet, but he has the tools and skill set to be if he gets stronger, improves his hand usage and works to disengage from blockers better. He reminds me a little bit of the junior version of Von Miller, a talented speed rusher who wasn’t a complete defensive end/linebacker yet. But after he got a little stronger and improved his technique he ended up being the #2 overall pick in the draft. Attaochu may not be on Miller’s level, it’s too early to tell, but his athleticism is pretty rare and if his technique, functional strength and football IQ catches up with his athletic ability he’s going to be a very valuable commodity come draft time.

Quayshawn Nealy, OLB**- Nealy is a redshirt sophomore linebacker who the Georgia Tech coaches seem to be very excited about, particularly defensive coordinator Al Groh. Nealy has been spending a lot of time with Groh to help absorb the intricacies of the 3-4 defense better. He also added about 10 pounds of weight and is supposedly playing at about 235 pounds even though he is listed at just 6’1”, 223 pounds right now. Nealy has impressive athleticism, has been developing as a leader and I think he might be moving to one of the inside linebacker positions for the Yellow Jackets this season. I’ve read about him playing outside and also inside, so we will just have to wait and see on that front. Regardless, Nealy made the most of his appearances last season, including 7 starts, as he made 52 tackles, 3 TFL, broke up 3 passes and had 2 interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown in Georgia Tech’s bowl game last season. He’s got a lot of ability, and as the game slows down for him and he continues to fill out he has the potential to be a special player, particularly if he keeps absorbing as much of Groh’s defensive knowledge as he has already.

Rod Sweeting, CB- Sweeting is returning for his senior season with only 13 career starts but considerable playing experience while not designated as a starter. He had 7 pass break-ups and an interception as a sophomore in 13 games, and then started 13 games as a junior and totaled 56 tackles, 3 TFL, 10 pass break-ups and 3 interceptions. He’s not the biggest corner despite being listed at 6’0”, 184 pounds and could stand to add more weight to his tall frame. He’s a good athlete though, and most importantly he has smooth hips and transitions well when changing directions. As evidenced by his statistics as well as his play, he has quality ball skills and that is something that is incredibly important for defensive backs because I’m not convinced it can be coached up very well. You either have those skills or you don’t, and Sweeting has them. He’s a mid-round guy right now, but if he has a consistent senior season he could crack the top 100 selections in April. I expect him to be at the Senior Bowl or East-West Shrine Game this winter.

Louis Young, CB*- Young is another tall corner, listed at 6’1”, but weighs 201 pounds and is much more filled out than Sweeting is right now. He may be more physically gifted, but he doesn’t have as much playing experience as Sweeting does and it shows. Young has shown he is no stranger to contact though, and seems to enjoy tackling which evaluators will love to see. He seems to mirror receivers well and has impressive quickness too. He is supposedly a very hard worker on and off the field and if he continues to work that hard it’s almost a virtual certainty that his play on the field will continue to improve exponentially. Now that he has a full season as a starter under his belt (12 starts, he was suspended for the bowl game for a violation of team rules) Young figures to improve on his 52 tackles, 3 TFL, 5 pass break-ups and 1 interception stat-line from his sophomore year. He has a lot of upside, so it is going to be fun to watch this secondary this season.

Isaiah Johnson, FS*- Johnson is a junior this season yet he returns with 16 starts to his name. He started all 13 games last season and was second on the team in tackles with 78 and also had 2 TFL, 1 sack, 3 pass break-ups and 3 interceptions to boot. He seems to have taken on a bit of a leadership role on the defense, and I’m excited to see the 6’2”, 205 pound center play more this season. I think he has a lot of potential.

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 North Carolina Tar Heels. The Tar Heels program has been under fire for what feels like an eternity to me (but I am a Tar Heels fan) and rumors continue to swirl around the program. Hopefully there aren’t extremely severe sanctions levied against the program, but that is all up in the air. All we can do is focus on football, and that’s what Larry Fedora and his team plan to do. I’ve been impressed with how Fedora has been handling this team, because Butch Davis was labeled a “player’s coach” but really was letting the inmates run the asylum, and while there were plenty of talented inmates he never coached them up or got the most out of them. He simply got what they were willing to give at any given time, but that was usually enough to win 8 games and be competitive. Fedora doesn’t share that same view, and in his first meetings even with returning starters and seniors he told them he expects them to drop weight, come back in better shape and improve before the season starts. Fedora seems to command respect, and Sylvester Williams noted that even though his Southern Miss team knew he was leaving after the bowl game they still played hard for him and won that game. Williams even said that played a role in him coming back for his second season with the team after transferring in from junior college. Fedora’s attitude appears to be contagious, as multiple players, most notably Williams and offensive guard Travis Bond, are supposedly in much better shape this summer and I am excited to see how that manifests itself on the field. The offense should be good even if it takes a bit to adjust to the new scheme, but Bryn Renner, Giovani Bernard, Erik Highsmith, Jheranie Boyd and Eric Ebron are ready to make plays and the offensive line returns three seniors and a junior, and is one of the most experienced offensive lines in the conference if not the entire country. And with Fedora pushing them to get in better shape and work hard to improve, I have no doubt the offense is going to be good for some big plays.

The defense has always been filled to the brim with talent, but for reasons I mentioned previously this unit never seemed to live up to it’s billing on paper. The Tar Heels defense has been churning out defensive prospects since Davis stepped on campus, and this year will be no different even with a new coaching staff in place. Kareem Martin, Sylvester Williams and Kevin Reddick continue the time-honored UNC tradition of generating quality defensive prospects, but there is more young talent there obviously. They are running a 4-2-5 this season, and while I prefer a 4-3 or a 3-4 I am willing to wait and see how this defense works. The Tar Heels have the talent to run it, so I’ll trust the coaching staff for now until I have reason to do otherwise. This team isn’t eligible to win the conference or play in the postseason this year, but that shouldn’t stop them from getting 8-10 wins this season. They have a very favorable schedule, with Louisville, Virginia Tech, Miami, NC State and Georgia Tech as their toughest tests in my opinion. With that, we move on to the prospects to keep an eye on:

Renner has enough tools to be considered a NFL prospect, but I want to see improved decision making and efficiency from him in his second season as a starter. With the great OL and bountiful weapons around him, he’s in line for a big season.

Bryn Renner, QB*- Renner has been competing for the starting job since he was a freshman when he was TJ Yates’ primary back-up, and I was actually hoping he would start that season because I was not a big Yates fan. Regardless, he got his shot last season as a sophomore and had a very good first season. He passed for 3,086 yards, completed 68.3% of his passes and passed for 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He’s got solid size for a quarterback at 6’3”, 215 pounds and has some athleticism to extend the play, but he is a pocket passer first and foremost. He has some arm strength, and he flashes accuracy, but I was a little concerned with some of his decision making last season. I am hoping to see him improve in that department as well as the rest of his game, but he could cut down on his interception total pretty easily by throwing the ball away and not forcing passes into coverage. I think that’s a step he’s capable of taking this year, and with plenty of weapons at disposal and an offensive line that returns three seniors and a junior left tackle in James Hurst I think he has a chance at 3,500+ yards and 30+ touchdowns this season. I’m still not sure he’s more than a mid-round guy as a NFL prospect at this point, but I look forward to seeing him grow over the next two seasons because he definitely has a lot of potential. He’s still pretty new to the position having only played two years of quarterback in high school, so he should improve considerably over the next two seasons at UNC.

Giovani Bernard, RB**- Bernard emerged as the top back the Tar Heels had last season, playing in 13 games and starting 11 of them and earning the ACC Rookie Player of the Year award as he rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns (5.2 ypc) as well as catching 45 passes for 362 more yards and a touchdown. He has been through a lot in his life whether it was losing his mother at 10 years old, having to watch much of his family attempt to survive the disaster in Haiti, or sustaining season ending injuries as a senior in high school and as a true freshman at North Carolina, Bernard has been through plenty. He finally got on the field last season as a redshirt freshman and he obviously didn’t disappoint, becoming just the 14th UNC running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in the program’s history and the first since 1997. He provided a running game that the Tar Heels haven’t had since I started watching football attentively, and my god was that fun to see. He dealt with a hip injury in the middle of the season, but still managed to be productive and help carry the offense. Bernard is coming off of his worst performance of the season against Missouri in UNC’s bowl game, rushing 13 times for 31 yards and no touchdowns against the Tigers. I’m sure he will be focusing on never letting that happen again, and I feel bad for Elon’s team because he is going to take that pent up frustration out on them in week 1. Bernard has NFL back written all over him thanks to his compact frame (5’10”, 210 pounds), impressive speed, burst, vision and hands out of the backfield. He’s very close to becoming a complete back despite only being a sophomore, and that should really excite Tar Heels fans. Hopefully Rynner and Bernard will both be back for 2013, because they could be an even more special combo than they will be this season. Rumor has it Bernard will even be the team’s punt returner this year thanks to injuries at that spot, so keep an eye on him on offense and special teams.

I’ve had my eye on Highsmith for a long time, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him as a Tar Heel over the last four years. Hopefully his senior season is the best of them all.

Erik Highsmith, WR- Highsmith is a kid I have been keeping an eye on since he was a freshman, because it was then that he first flashed upside, catching 37 passes for 425 yards and 2 touchdowns that year despite being rated as a three star wide receiver prospect if I remember correctly. The 6’3”, 190 pound receiver has never slowed down, catching 25 balls for 348 yards and 3 touchdowns as a sophomore and grabbing 51 receptions for 726 yards and 5 touchdowns as a junior. Dwight Jones has moved on (though to what, we’re not really sure) and Highsmith should be a breath of fresh air for NFL talent evaluators who saw Jones’ skill set but clearly questioned his dedication and determination which led to him being undrafted. It seems they were right to doubt him, as he quit shortly after signing with the Texans. Still, Highsmith has always been the overachieving type of player and truthfully I never expected to be writing about him as a legitimate NFL prospect when I watched him as a freshman. He’s got the size, long arms and soft hands that NFL teams will love in a receiver, and his work ethic and determination to improve is obvious because of his vast starting experience dating back to his freshman year, as he returns for his senior season with 30 career starts. He projects as more of a possession receiver at the next level, and I’d like to see him continue to improve his route running, but he’s better after the catch than you might expect and should prove to be the superior prospect to his teammate Jones who always got all the attention while at Chapel Hill. Highsmith is an easy kid to root for and I’m excited to see him this season.

Jheranie Boyd, WR- Boyd is another senior receiver but he is not nearly as polished or consistent as Highsmith. Boyd is a 6’2”, 190 pound speedster with an estimated 40 time in the 4.4’s who has been primarily a vertical threat for UNC for the past couple of years. Last season he led the team with a 20.9 average yards per catch despite only catching 14 balls for 292 yards and 5 touchdowns. He gives the Tar Heels a quick strike element to the team, slightly reminiscent of what Brandon Tate did for them a few years ago before his devastating injury. Boyd doesn’t have great hands at this point, and he could be a lot better than he currently is, but I’m hoping he can put it all together as a senior and really show what he can do. Teams will love his combination of size, speed and potential, but his inconsistency and lack of production will keep him as a mid-late round prospect until he really steps up his game. Hopefully that happens as a senior, because he has a lot of untapped upside.

TJ Thorpe, WR**- TJ Thorpe is another speedster that should provide the Tar Heels with a vertical threat, and despite only being a true sophomore with 2 receptions and 70 yards to his name I had to mention him because of his upside as a receiver as well as his already impressive production as a kick returner. As a true freshman Thorpe returned 36 kick-offs for 960 yards (26.7 avg) and 1 touchdown, and figures to continue to return kicks and hopefully punts as a true sophomore. He’s listed at 6’0”, 190 pounds but also has 4.4 speed and if his 35 yard average per reception last season is any indication he is going to threaten defenses vertically for the Tar Heels if he can stay healthy. Right now, unfortunately, that health is in question as he suffered a “serious” foot injury in early August and it is not known how much time he will miss. Hopefully it’s not much, because he has a lot of upside as a playmaker for the Tar Heels on offense and on special teams.

Eric Ebron, TE**- Ebron is another true sophomore that I had to include because he is penciled in as the starting tight end and he could be in for a big season. Ebron is listed at 6’4”, 230 pounds and while he only had 10 receptions last year he made the most of them, totaling 207 yards (20.7 ypc average, 2nd on the team only to Boyd) and 1 touchdown. A reliable tight end is a quarterback’s best friend, and if Ebron is ready to step up (which I really think he is) then he could have a huge season this year. He is said to have 4.5 speed, plenty of strength and that makes me think he’s ready to surpass his freshman totals easily. He should be played in-line and also split out in the slot which will cause a lot of match-up problems for opposing defenses. He’s got all the ability, but as long as he keeps himself on the right path off the field (he missed the Missouri bowl game because his grades weren’t up to par) he should catch a lot of eyes this season for the Tar Heels. Fedora’s offense and staff has a history of sending quality tight end prospects to the NFL, and Ebron is going to be the next in line in my opinion.

James Hurst, OT*- Hurst was a top recruit out of high school and chose to come to North Carolina where he made an immediate impact. He started 12 games at left tackle as a true freshman and started 13 more at left tackle as a sophomore. He should have 12 more starts at left tackle by the end of his junior year, and he will have a tough decision about whether or not he should come back for his senior season or enter the draft. At 6’7”, 310 pounds he has ideal left tackle size, arm length and still has the frame to add strength. He’s athletic for his size and while he isn’t a top 5 pick right now, he has that kind of upside. It will be interesting to see how much he has progressed over the summer, because if he starts matching up with some of the pass rush talent in the ACC (most notably that of Virginia Tech, Miami and Georgia Tech) he could vault himself into 1st round consideration easily. His match-up on October 6th against James Gayle and J.R. Collins of Virginia Tech is one everyone needs to watch.

Brennan Williams, OT- Williams plays on the right side and is obviously not the same prospect that Hurst is. He has similar size, being listed at 6’7”, 315 pounds, but isn’t the same athlete. He returns for his senior season with 14 career starts, and figures to continue to make his mark in the run game, as he totaled 30 knock downs last season. The true test for Williams will be how well he can show up in pass protection. Last year was his first full season as a starter, so it’s tough to project him right now. He’s probably in the mid-late round range right now, but could improve that easily with a good season.

Jonathan Cooper, OG- Right now Cooper is the best NFL Draft prospect on the team, though Hurst could pass him with a good or great season this year. Cooper has a whopping 35 career starts entering his senior season and all but one of them has been at left guard (one was at Center as a sophomore). The 6’3”, 305 pound guard isn’t the definition of a road grader, but he moves extremely well for an offensive lineman and should be an ideal pulling guard at the next level. I think he might be a great fit for a zone blocking scheme because of his quickness, change of direction speed and ability to get to the second level pretty much effortlessly. I’m not sure what I think of him in a power scheme, and he could stand to get stronger, but he still has a great shot at being a top 40 pick without much improvement as a senior.

Travis Bond, OG- Bond is the “other” guard on the Tar Heels who is very much overshadowed by Cooper. Bond is a massive player as he is listed at 6’7”, 345 pounds and was always the antithesis of Cooper and not moving very well. He supposedly ballooned up to 372 pounds after the bowl game against Missouri and Larry Fedora and his new coaching staff simply told him he couldn’t play in this offense at that weight. Bond heard the message loud and clear and through a lot of careful eating, cardio and even some sand pit work with defensive backs Bond dropped about 45 pounds and now weighs under 330, the lowest I’ve seen him listed at since he has been a Tar Heel. He claims he is moving much better and feels lighter on his feet, and has even been running with the second team at right tackle in practice. Bond may be completely under the radar right now, but look out for him at right guard this year now that he is in much better shape and if Williams goes down at right tackle it sounds like Bond would be the player the coaching staff would slide outside.

Kareem Martin, DE*- Martin has NFL size at 6’6”, 260 pounds and despite entering his sophomore season with only 3 career starts he outworked Donte Paige-Moss and took his starting job at defensive end, leading to an incredibly disappointing season for Paige-Moss that ended with a poorly thought out criticism of his coaches via Twitter as well as a serious knee injury. Martin enters his junior season with 16 career starts and had 40 tackles, 3 TFL, 4 sacks and 6 pass deflections last season. He has a large frame, long arms and plenty of athleticism. He is still developing as a prospect, but as he improves his technique and hand usage Martin will be getting a LOT of attention from NFL scouts. 6’6”, 260 pound defensive ends don’t grow on trees, and Martin has top 50 pick upside.

Williams had an instant impact after transferring from JUCO last year despite his lack of football experience, but now that he has slimmed down and improved his conditioning he’s ready to live up to his 1st round upside.

Sylvester Williams, DT- I’m a big fan of Williams and while he will be playing the 3 technique tackle position again in UNC’s new 4-2-5 defense. That is going to put new pressure on the front four to stop the run, because the 5th defensive back is likely going to be Gene Robinson, a 5’11”, 190 pound in the box type safety. That means Williams is going to have to step up and defend the run better, as he had a problem with this at times last season, particularly against Missouri. He was driven off the ball by double teams in that game and thanks to Tydreke Powell’s problems in that game as well it led to huge running lanes for the Tigers. Williams has all the size, athleticism and potential you could want at 6’3”, 315 pounds and he has the burst and speed to penetrate and make plays in the backfield as evidenced by his 54 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble and 1 interception in his first season with the Tar Heels. He is still learning the position and barely played football in high school and transferred from Junior College to the Tar Heels last year and made an immediate impact. He may not be polished and refined even after this season, but his upside is undeniable. He is supposedly down to about 300 pounds this season after Larry Fedora motivated him to lose weight and come into camp in better shape, much like he did with Travis Bond and other Tar Heels. He has said that he feels much lighter, quicker but just as strong. Hopefully that helps him defend the run better, and I think it will help him boost the Tar Heels’ pass rush. He has plenty of strength, has flashed violent hands and with this added burst he could shock people with his season this year. I’m excited to see Williams as a senior because I think he has 1st round upside, and with Fedora and his quality coaching staff pushing him I think he can reach it.

Kevin Reddick, MLB- Reddick feels like he has been on the Tar Heels for an eternity to me, and he has 31 career starts entering his senior season with the team. Reddick is going to be one of the key cogs in the new 4-2-5 defense and I am hoping that the 6’3”, 240 pound linebacker won’t play as soft as past senior defensive prospects have on the Tar Heels, most notably Zach Brown who many nicknamed “Pillow Hands” because of how much he seemed to despise contact. Reddick is the leading returning tackler for the Tar Heels, and he had 71 last year as well as 5 TFL, 1 sack and 4 pass break-ups as a junior. He is a good tackler though he attempts more arm tackles and tackles high more than I would like, but hopefully he can improve his tackling technique a bit as a senior. He is expected to be one of the leaders of the defense and I can’t wait to see how he does in this new scheme.

Tim Scott, CB**- Scott started 8 games last season as a true freshman corner and certainly did not disappoint. The 5’11”, 180 pound corner with plenty of speed had 43 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 pass break-ups and 1 interception in his first season with the Tar Heels. He may only be a true sophomore, but he has a lot of potential and if the Tar Heels defensive line can apply consistent pressure I think you will see Scott break out this season. Keep an eye on him.

Tre Boston, S*- Boston returns for his junior season with 14 career starts and is coming off of a season where he totaled 70 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 2 pass break-ups and 3 interceptions as a sophomore. He’s listed at 6’1”, 190 pounds and while I’m not that familiar with his game I am excited to see how he plays this year. He’s the most experienced starter in the Tar Heel secondary and will be relied upon while the rest of the defense adjusts to the new defense.

Casey Barth, K- Barth is a very experienced kicker and is the next in line of talented Barth kickers who have played at North Carolina. His older brother, Connor, is a talented kicker who went undrafted but is now a very reliable kicker on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Casey is just as talented in my opinion, and has 63 career field goal attempts. He was 10/15 with a long of 42 as a true freshman, 21/25 with a long of 42 as a sophomore, 19/22 with a long of 49 as a junior, and then missed last season after making 11 extra points and 1 46 yard field goal last season before a groin injury sidelined him for all but 3 games. He’s back for his 5th year with the Tar Heels now, and should provide a very reliable kicking leg for the new coaching staff if he can stay healthy. I’m not sure he will be drafted, but I think he will be one of the better kickers in the conference.