Tag Archive: Offensive Guard


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 Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes are coming off of a bowl game beating at the hands of Oklahoma, and 2012 probably won’t be much better than 2011 was for the Iowa faithful. James Vandenberg returns for his second season as a starter but in typical Iowa fashion Marcus Coker, the team’s top running back last season, will not be back with the team last year. I have lost track of how many quality running backs have emerged and eventually been kicked off of Iowa’s team, but it seems like it has happened every year since Shonn Greene left for the NFL. Regardless, the Hawkeyes are back to square one with the running back position yet again and hopefully someone emerges and manages not to get kicked off the team this year. All-time leading receiver Marvin McNutt has moved on to the NFL as well, leaving Keenan Davis as the primary target at receiver. Luckily, CJ Fiedorowicz is poised to emerge as the best tight end in the Big-10 and one of the best in the entire nation, so he should be a very good option for Vandenberg on offense. Unfortunately, question marks abound along the offensive line as the unit returns only two starters, Matt Tobin and James Ferentz. The offensive line is one of the most important pieces of any offense, and the offense will only be as good as that unit allows it to be. It remains to be seen just how quickly they will be able to gel.

On defense, the questions abound along the defensive line as well. The Hawkeyes lost three seniors to graduation, including their disruptive defensive tackle Mike Daniels. They are largely inexperienced along the defensive front, and will be looking to anyone and everyone to step up to fill the void left by the three seniors who moved on this year. Luckily, Iowa returns plenty of talent at linebacker, headlined by Middle Linebacker James Morris and Weak-side Linebacker Christian Kirksey. They also have some talent in the secondary, most notably cornerback Micah Hyde, but free safety Tanner Miller also showed some upside as a a first year starter as a sophomore. Overall, the sheer number of question marks along the offensive and defensive lines for Iowa makes me wonder how many more wins than 6 they will be able to accumulate this year, but Kirk Ferentz is one of the best in the business at getting the most out of the talent he has on the roster, and that’s why I refuse to predict that he and his Hawkeyes will miss out on a bowl game this season. And with that, here are the prospects to keep an eye on:

Vandenberg has some natural talent, but I want to see him do the little things better in his second season as a starter before I give him more than an UDFA grade.

James Vandenberg, QB- Vandenberg is a solid college quarterback at this point, but now that he is in a new offense it will be interesting to see if he takes the next step in his second year as a starter. At 6’3”, 212 pounds he has solid size, he has pretty good arm strength and flashes quality ball placement at times, but it is inconsistent as is his play overall. He needs to work on his footwork in my opinion, as at times he throws flat-footed when he has functional space to step into his throws, fades away from throws when he senses pressure (whether it is there or not) but also doesn’t throw accurately when he is throwing on the move. He shows the ability to make some pre-snap reads but locks on to his primary receiver too much and doesn’t go through his progressions well post-snap and tends to hesitate and occasionally panic if his primary receiver isn’t there. I think that if he improves his mechanics, particularly his footwork, his accuracy will improve and he will become more efficient. He doesn’t throw a great deep ball at this point, and I think he needs to execute his fakes better as a play-action passer to suck in the defense. These are little things, but it will make him a better quarterback if he works on them. Right now he’s a 7th round/UDFA prospect in my opinion and he will have to show considerable progress to work his way into the mid-rounds this season. That is all possible since he was a year one starter last year, but he still has significant hurdles to overcome to impress me enough to bump up his grade.

Keenan Davis, WR- Davis has the size and length that you want in a NFL receiver at 6’3”, 215 pounds and shows the ability to catch the ball outside of his frame which I love to see. I want to see him run better routes and improve his concentration to eliminate drops, but he has the size and athleticism to win 50/50 balls and make plays in traffic. He’s got the body type to be an effective possession receiver at the next level if nothing else, and it will be interesting to see how he handles being the #1 target this season with Marvin McNutt moving on to the NFL. I also want to see more effort out of him as a blocker, because he was rarely on the play-side blocking and often looked lackadaisical like he didn’t really think blocking the backside corner was important. He had the best season of his career last year with 50 catches for 713 yards and 4 touchdowns and if Vandenberg steps up and Davis improves his route running and concentration he could be in for an even bigger year in 2012.

I’m already convinced that Fiedorowicz is the best draft eligible blocking tight end in this class, and I’m convinced he’s going to play a critical role as a receiver for Iowa this year as well. Soon everyone who gets a chance to watch him will be raving about him, he’s a first round talent.

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE*- Fiedorowicz is easily my favorite prospect on the Hawkeyes. I absolutely love scouting tight ends that are quality blockers and I’m not sure there will be a better blocking tight end eligible for the 2012 draft than “CJF” as I will henceforth refer to him. CJF is literally an extension of the offensive line at 6’7”, 255 pounds and showed the ability to seal off defensive ends and linebackers in the run game to create seams for runners, he showed he could come in motion and shock a linebacker filling in the middle of the field, and he showed that he can handle a defensive end one on one in the run game (even 6’5”, 270 pound ones on Oklahoma) and in the pass game, showing solid hand placement, using his long arms to latch on and sustaining blocks effectively without letting his hands get outside onto the shoulder pads. He’s going to be a huge asset in the run game and when he’s kept in to pass block at the next level whenever he chooses to leave Iowa, and did I mention he has soft hands as well? He only caught 16 passes for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns last year, but expect him to catch at least 40-50 balls for 500+ yards and 7+ touchdowns this season now that McNutt has moved on and Vandenberg will be looking for a #2 passing option. CJF figures to be a very important cog in the Iowa offense this year, and I can’t wait to see how he looks once he is targeted more in the passing game. I think he has 1st round potential written all over him. Click here for a full scouting report on Fiedorowicz.

Matt Tobin, OG- Tobin is the only other returning starter on the offensive line besides James Ferentz and I was kind of expecting him to be a player the group could rally around but I was disappointed with what I saw from him when I watched film. He’s listed at 6’6”, 290 pounds so while he has all the height you could want he is relatively light, particularly in the lower body in my opinion. He has pretty long arms but he struggles to play with consistent pad level and shorter, squattier defensive linemen have an easy time getting under his pads and driving him off the line of scrimmage. This causes him to struggle to drive defensive tackles off the ball in the run game and makes him susceptible to bull rushes since he doesn’t have a great anchor. He bends at the waist at times as well and doesn’t seem to have great balance or hand placement. Overall, he looks like an undrafted free agent to me right now. Unless he comes back stronger with improved technique my grade probably won’t change much.

James Ferentz, C- Ferentz is a kid I like quite a bit. He’s probably a fourth rounder as a center at this point, but that has more to do with his size and limited upside than it does with what he’s shown me on film. At 6’2”, 284 pounds he certainly doesn’t jump off the tape at you as a physical freak, but he has worked hard to add weight since being a 250 pound offensive lineman coming out of high school. He’s not going to be able to pack 30 more pounds onto that frame, but getting up in the 300 pound range would be very beneficial for him, particularly against stronger, physical defensive lineman. Right now he just doesn’t have the lower body strength to handle strong players bull-rushing him, and even got run over by Tom Wort when he blitzed up the middle on a run play. Wort is a 6’0”, 230 pound linebacker, he should not be able to bull rush a 284 pound center on a run play and knock him over backwards. However, Ferentz plays with good pad level in part thanks to his natural leverage, and does a good job with his hand placement and with his feet. He’s scrappy and blocks to the whistle which I like. He’s more of a wall-off blocker than a drive blocker thanks to his size, but he can walk defenders down the line of scrimmage or push them off the ball occasionally if they let him get into their pads. He’s not going to wow you with his size or workout numbers, but Ferentz is a coach’s son who is the heart and soul of the offensive line, a team leader and the kind of kid you want on your team. He may not wow talent evaluators the second they see him, but he’s the type of player that impresses you in interviews and ends up playing for the same team for 12 years because of his football IQ and leadership capability.

Dominic Alvis, DE*- Alvis is a 6’4”, 265 pound defensive end who has actually flashed some explosiveness and playmaking ability which this defensive line is in sore need of. He had 30 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass break-up and 1 forced fumble as a sophomore last year before tearing his ACL, causing him to miss Iowa’s last 5 games. He’s one of the leaders of the defensive line because he is one of the oldest and most experienced linemen the Hawkeyes have despite only having 8 career starts and the fact that he is entering his junior season. He is the leading returning tackler of anyone on the defensive line, and I would expect his production to spike this season especially if he can stay healthy.

Joe Gaglione, DE/DT- Gaglione is a bit of a ‘tweener at 6’4”, 264 pounds but he is still listed as a defensive tackle at times. I saw him lining up at defensive end when I watched him on tape, but he is likely an undrafted kid no matter where he lines up. I wanted to list him on here because he is a high-effort kid who fights off blocks even if he struggles to disengage from bigger, stronger blockers and doesn’t look like an elite athlete. Plenty of people slept on another undersized defensive end/defensive tackle ‘tweener from Iowa a couple years ago, but I was high on him and he went on to have a very productive rookie season with the Titans. That man was Karl Klug, and no one seemed to be impressed with him at the East-West Shrine Game but his non-stop motor and great work ethic endeared him to me and he shocked everyone as a rookie. I’m not saying Gaglione is going to do the same thing, nor that he is even capable of that, but just because a kid is a ‘tweener and may not have an ideal position doesn’t mean he can’t be productive if he works hard and has a good motor.

Carl Davis, DT*- Davis had a very limited impact last season, but the 6’5”, 310 pound defensive tackle who was highly touted coming out of high school appears to be on the verge of a break-out season, and boy do the Hawkeyes need it along the defensive line. If Davis can step up and be disruptive against the run and the pass this year it will make the entire defense better, and help hold the rest of the inexperienced defensive line together. He only played in 6 games and totaled 2 tackles last year, but if there was ever a time for him to turn it on it is right now.

Christian Kirksey, OLB*- I didn’t get to see a ton of Kirksey on film, but he returns for his second full season as a starter with 13 games of experience under his belt and tied with James Morris for the team lead in tackles with 110 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 3 pass break-ups and an interception. He looked pretty comfortable dropping into coverage, and was often lined up in front of receivers or tight ends who were split out in the slot when I saw him. At 6’2”, 220 pounds he doesn’t have the ideal bulk for a NFL linebacker, but hopefully he will be able to add some weight and continue to be productive over the next two seasons.

James Morris, MLB*- I liked what I saw from Morris. He doesn’t look like an elite middle linebacker, but he looks like a fourth round guy to me. He’s listed at 6’2”, 230 pounds and while he isn’t an elite athlete and he has some stiffness to him I liked that he showed that he could read and react, close quickly on plays in front of him and tackle well. He also showed some ability in coverage, and even though he over-pursues at times I still like him as a linebacker prospect. Like I said, he’s not elite, but he’s reliable and shows some instincts which help mask his lack of elite athleticism. He had 110 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 pass break-up and an interception as a sophomore last year and returns with 18 career starts as a junior.

Hyde offers great size, football IQ, tackling and ball skills for the cornerback position, and projects to be a reliable #2 starter in the NFL.

Micah Hyde, CB- If I wasn’t so enamored with CJ Fiedorowicz Micah Hyde would probably be my top rated prospect on the Hawkeyes heading into 2012. Hyde is a special teams stud for one, which I always love to see from starters in college, and I have read a number of articles about him showing quality leadership which is another thing I love to hear about NFL prospects I am scouting. Hyde has 26 career starts to his name (all but two of them at corner, the other two being at free safety) and his 6’1”, 190 pound frame is quite good for the cornerback position. He isn’t an elite athlete in my opinion and doesn’t have great hips to turn and run with receivers downfield, but his size, length, football IQ and ball skills are evident on film. Not only that, but Hyde is a very good tackler for a cornerback, and he finished last season with 72 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 8 pass deflections and 3 interceptions. He’s not an elite prospect, but he is without a doubt a top-100 pick in my opinion. He’s got the upside to be a reliable #2 starter, special teams ace and quality locker-room presence. NFL teams will love that.

Tanner Miller, FS*- Miller was the team’s third leading tackler despite it being his first season as a starter, but that didn’t stop the 6’2”, 201 pound safety from racking up 76 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 pass deflections and 3 interceptions as a sophomore. He is the only returning defensive back who is projected to start that has any starting experience outside of Micah Hyde, and will be expected to be one of the leaders of the secondary as BJ Lowery fills in opposite Hyde at corner and Nico Law, a true sophomore, fills in opposite Miller at safety.

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Kansas Jayhawks. It might seem like there is a dearth of talent on the Jayhawks, and one might assume that given their abysmal 2-10 record last year and statistically awful defense. However, I was quite pleasantly surprised at the talent level of the Jayhawks roster. There isn’t a lot of depth, but just having talent at all was a bit of a surprise for me honestly. Weis was able to recruit some 5th year seniors eligible for immediate playing time, most notably Dayne Crist, and has a chance to make a run at 6 wins and a bowl game in his inaugural year as Head Coach. I’m not sure they’ll get there, but I think they have a real shot at 4-5 wins. They won’t beat teams like Oklahoma, West Virginia or Texas, but games against San Diego State and Rice are winnable and they won’t be as overmatched against TCU and Illinois as some might assume. I’m not going to guarantee a bowl game for Kansas, but I will guarantee 4 wins. They’re good enough to accomplish that even given the enormous amount of coaching turnover in the last 4 years. So keep an eye on Kansas, they might be good for a shocking upset this season, and if they get a couple breaks against better teams they could find themselves in a bowl game. Here are the prospects to look out for on the Jayhawks:

Crist has been through a lot of adversity during his college career, but the former top high school recruit has one last chance to redeem himself at Kansas. I’m rooting for him to end his career on a high note.

Dayne Crist, QB- Weis’ first priority was trying to find a quarterback to run his offense at Kansas, and who better than someone he was already familiar with. That undoubtably was the deciding factor in Crist choosing to transfer to Kansas over other schools, and as a result he will have one last shot to show NFL teams what he can do. I don’t anticipate him ever being a NFL starter, and he might not even stick in the NFL despite his obvious arm talent and NFL size. But for Kansas, having a 6’4”, 235 pound quarterback with a rocket arm is something very new and different, and if he performs well it could really help Weis with recruiting. “I picked Dayne Crist off of Notre Dame’s scrap heap and made him productive, imagine what I could do with you!” Regardless, Crist has a chance to show off one last time for evaluators this year, and I hope he makes the most of it. I’ve never been impressed with his poise in the pocket, he doesn’t seem to be “the guy” in big games or moments, and he looks nervous when he is pressured. The key for Kansas will be keeping him clean and giving him functional space, and if they can do that while helping him get the ball out of his hands quickly as they did regularly in the Spring Game then he could be successful this season. I really have no idea what to expect from Crist this year, and I don’t think he’s going to get drafted, but it will be fun to see what he and Weis can do together in his last hurrah as a college quarterback. Crist has been through a lot, and I may not love him as a quarterback prospect, but you want to root for him after his injury issues to both knees at Notre Dame before being benched by Brian Kelly in favor of Tommy Rees. Here’s hoping he has a good season and avoids any further injuries.

James Sims, RB*- Sims was Kansas’ leading rusher last year with 727 yards and 9 touchdowns (4.0 ypc) and the 6’0” 202 pound back with surprising speed had a firm grip on the starting position until he was arrested for a DUI in April leading Charlie Weiss to suspend him for the first three games of the 2012 season. That may not seem like a huge blow, particularly for something as serious as a DUI, but as far as I can tell that is Sims’ first run-in and Weiss has shown that he will not tolerate that kind of behavior as he dismissed 10 players from the team shortly after being named Head Coach. The Jayhawks have a surprising amount of talent and depth at running back, so Sims will have to fight and produce when he comes back from his suspension to earn his job back. He’s got some potential, but I want to see how he does in the final 9 games (or 10 if they can somehow get to a bowl game), but I’m glad Weis is taking a firm stance on these kinds of issues. That’s a quick and easy way to show your players that you aren’t joking around when it comes to keeping yourself out of trouble- suspend your leading rusher and a sure-fire starter when he slips up off the field. Good for Weis.

Tony Pierson, RB**- Pierson is a true sophomore but I really like his upside. He’s a speedster listed at 5’11”, 170 pounds so he could really stand to add some weight to help him hold up as a potential feature back, but on only 71 carries he managed 396 yards and 3 touchdowns as a freshman (5.6 ypc). Brandon Bourbon will be his main competition for the starting job for the first three games, and Bourbon is more of a power back like Sims thanks to his 6’2”, 220 pound size and running style. Look for Pierson and Bourbon to both be mixed in a lot for those first three games, with Bourbon handling short yardage and the Jayhawks trying to get Pierson in space as much as possible. He showed impressive shiftiness as a runner last year and ripped off an 88 yard touchdown run in the Jayhawks’ Spring Game, so look for him to make plays even though he is still young.

Patterson is an undersized speedster and should be frequently targeted by Crist this year thanks to his ability to make defenders miss and generate yardage after the catch.

Daymond Patterson, WR- Patterson was injured for most of the season last year and chose to take a redshirt so he could come back healthy for one last go-round as a Jayhawks receiver. I’m glad he did, because he is going to be a part of a very intriguing offense this year. They have three returning seniors at receiver in him, Kale Pick and DJ Beshears who have all shown they can produce, they have an intriguing 6’4” target Andrew Turzilli who is just a sophomore, and they have three productive running backs at their disposal. If the offensive line holds up and Crist gets comfortable this could actually be a productive offense. Patterson would play a big role in that, as he had 60 receptions for 487 yards and 2 touchdowns as a junior, his first as a receiver after being converted from corner. He doesn’t have a NFL future at corner, but his unique experience playing corner and his familiarity with tackling will make it easier to play special teams as he fights for a NFL roster spot next year. He’s got pretty reliable hands and the 5’8”, 178 pound receiver has some speed and shiftiness to him. He should be Kansas’ top receiver this year, but he won’t be alone by any means.

Kale Pick, WR- I like Pick a lot, and like many players on Kansas he started his career playing a different position. Pick used to be a quarterback, but last year was his first as a receiver and all the 6’2”, 205 pounder did was catch 34 passes for 344 yards and 2 touchdowns. Not bad for your first season at a totally new position, especially in only 7 starts. Pick figures to be Kansas’ #2 target this year behind only Patterson, and his emergence should allow Beshears and Patterson to play in the slot more. I didn’t see much of Pick last year, but he showed me reliable hands, solid route running and some shiftiness with the ball in his hands. He’s not polished yet, but I think he has a chance to stick as a NFL receiver. I am looking forward to watching him this year.

DJ Beshears, WR- When I saw Beshears catching a pass in the slot I thought he was a running back split out, I didn’t realize he was a slot receiver. He is listed at 5’9”, 185 but may only be 5’8” and his lower body looks more like Maurice Jones-Drew than any receiver I have ever seen. He’s got some burst and solid hands, and while I don’t think he’s draftable at this point it should be interesting to see what he can do in Weis’ offense. He led the team with 40 receptions for 437 yards and 3 touchdowns last season but with Patterson and Pick emerging I think he will be more of a complementary target this year.

Andrew Turzilli, WR**- Turzilli is a sophomore this year and obviously won’t be declaring for the draft, but he presents some very intriguing size and athleticism for Kansas that they haven’t really had in a while. He is listed at 6’4”, 185 pounds and has the size and speed to threaten defenses vertically unlike any other receiver on Kansas’ football team right now. He is behind three senior receivers this year, but that should give him a chance to sneak up on people and create some big plays down the field without getting much attention from defenses. I would be surprised if Weis elected not to use him since he is an intriguing weapon, and a four WR set with Pick and Turzilli on the outside with Patterson and Beshears in the slot sure would be intriguing, and not many defenses in the Big-12 could take that away easily. He’s unproven right now, but I like Turzilli’s upside.

Mike Ragone, TE- Ragone is yet another transfer from Notre Dame that Weis used his former coaching job to pull. Ragone is a senior and has plenty of size at 6’4”, 250 pounds. Like Crist, he has struggled with injuries and Notre Dame just keeps churning out top NFL talent at tight end, most recently Kyle Rudolph and now Tyler Eifert has a shot at the 1st round. That all contributed to Ragone following Weis to Kansas, and he figures to be the starter for the Jayhawks this year. He only has 11 career receptions for 109 yards, so he is far from a proven commodity, but part of that is due to his struggles with injuries and the two NFL players he has been stuck behind. He’s an undrafted free agent at this point for obvious reasons, from a lack of production to injury issues, but it will be interesting to see if Ragone can stay healthy and get some targets in this offense. There’s a very real possibility that if he earns the starting job that he could double his career production in just one season, and it would be really cool to see him score his first collegiate touchdown with his last chance at Kansas.

Tanner Hawkinson, OT- Tanner Hawkinson is likely Kansas’ top NFL Draft prospect at this point, and he has been a mainstay on the offensive line for the Jayhawks, entering his senior season with a remarkable 36 career starts. He started his first 24 at left tackle before moving to the right side last year, but now he is back at left tackle for his senior season. He’s listed at 6’6”, 295 pounds and he moves well for a man his size, and you can tell that he is a former tight end. I’m not sure he will be able to stick at left tackle, but there is some potential for him to do so. He is athletic and his biggest problem is his lack of lower body strength and ability to anchor in my opinion. If he can get even stronger (to be fair, he has added 70 pounds of weight since arriving at Kansas) in his lower half it would help him anchor better versus bull rushes and generate more push in the run game. Right now he’s a late round prospect, but NFL teams might look at his athleticism and see an unfinished product despite the possibility he will leave Kansas with 48 career starts.

Duane Zlatnik, OG- Zlatnik is probably the second best offensive lineman after Hawkinson, but while I am hoping Hawkinson can get stronger that isn’t a problem with Zlatnik. He is listed at 6’4”, 311 pounds and is considered to be the strongest player on the team. I’m not that familiar with him from a technique standpoint, but now that I have uncovered all of this talent on Kansas’ football team I will likely be watching much more of them this season. He enters the year with 21 career starts, 20 of them coming at right guard, but he will be at left guard next to Hawkinson this season.

Opurum is a former running back (and a pretty good one at that) but his athleticism is on full display at defensive end. I think he has a chance to get 8 sacks this season, he’s got upside as a pass rusher.

Toben Opurum, DE- Opurum is a captain and I listened to an interview he did during the spring and I was impressed with what he had to say. He’s a hard worker, a leader, a team captain and seems like a nice kid. Like so many Jayhawks, he started at another position and for Opurum it was running back. He moved to defensive end, bulked up and after transitioning to DE as a sophomore he produced 45 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 4 sacks, one forced fumble, and a pass break-up as a junior. He’s Kansas’ top returning pass rusher, and was also credited with 7 QB hurries (I don’t like to list those because they are so subjective and usually poorly recorded). Opurum is listed at 6’2”, 245 pounds and likely won’t be a 4-3 DE at that size. It’s tough to make it as a 4-3 DE when you’re 6’2” or under, and few are productive if they get the chance. Opurum’s best bet is probably as a 3-4 OLB where his size wouldn’t be as problematic and his athleticism may be better utilized. Opurum has impressive burst and speed, and while he is new to the position I think he has a shot to double his TFL and sack production from last season. I think he has 10+ TFL and 8 sacks in him, I really do. I like Opurum and I’m really rooting for him to have a great season and get drafted, and I hope to see him at the East-West Shrine Game this year.

Darius Willis, MLB*- Willis is a junior middle linebacker who has NFL size at 6’2”, 243 pounds and is the team’s 2nd leading tackler who is returning this year. He had 81 tackles, 7 TFL and 1 sack last season, his first with the Jayhawks after transferring from Buffalo and sitting out the 2010 season. He has 14 career starts including his two starts as a freshman at Buffalo, and still has two years of eligibility remaining. The Jayhawks are amassing some talent along the defensive line, so it will be interesting to see how Willis builds on his impressive sophomore season. I particularly want to see how he does in coverage.

Tunde Bakare, OLB/SS- Bakare is a hybrid player that I’m not super familiar with, but I do know that in 7 starts last year the 5’10”, 205 pounder amassed 51 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass break-up. The most impressive thing about Bakare is that, according to Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, he has 4.35 speed. That’s blistering, and while he’s not much of a NFL prospect at this point that sure would get the attention of NFL teams and it could help him get a roster spot as an undrafted free agent if he shows up on special teams.

Tyler Patmon, CB*- Patmon is Kansas’ top corner in my opinion, and the junior is listed at 5’11”, 180 pounds. As a freshman he started 9 games and had 45 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 10 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. He followed that up with 7 starts as a sophomore, producing 43 tackles, 2 TFL, four pass deflections and another interception. I haven’t seen him play much so I am interested to see if he can continue his playmaking ways as a junior.

Greg Brown, CB- Brown is another solid corner standing at 5’11”, 185 pounds. He had 6 passes defended as a sophomore and had 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 3 pass deflections and 2 interceptions as a junior. I haven’t seen him play much either, so I want to see if he’s draftable. At this point I don’t have him graded as much more than an undrafted free agent, but a good season this year could help change that.

Bradley McDougald, FS- McDougald is the Jayhawks’ leading returning tackler, producing 89 tackles (68 solo), 4 TFL, 1 sack, 5 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble as a junior last season. He is another position convert, previously playing wide receiver before transitioning to strong safety during the season as a sophomore and starting 2 games. He started all 12 games last year and even returned 2 punts for an average of 11 per return. The 6’2”, 214 pounder has a unique skill set thanks to his ability to contribute as a receiver early on in his career (he has 52 career receptions for 558 yards and 1 touchdown, so he can catch) and he is a reliable tackler and has shown the ability to make plays in coverage. He’s underrated, and I really think he has a chance to get drafted. If Kansas’ front 7 can improve their back end could make some plays this year, headlined by McDougald.

Quarterback Rankings:

1-      Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal

2-      Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee*

3-      Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

4-      Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech*

5-      Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

6-      Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia*

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

8-      Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State

9-      Casey Pachall, QB, TCU*

10-   Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

Running Back Rankings:

1-      Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina*

2-      Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

3-      Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas*

4-      Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State*

5-      Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina*

6-      Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh

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

8-      Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama*

9-      Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

10-   Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas

Wide Receiver Rankings:

1-      Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal*

2-      Keenan Allen, WR, California*

3-      Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee*

4-      Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State*

5-      Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee*

6-      Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

7-      Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

8-      Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

9-      Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon

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

1-      Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame*

2-      Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State

3-      Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA

4-      Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn

5-      Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford*

6-      Michael Williams, TE, Alabama

7-      Jordan Reed, TE, Florida*

8-      Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut

9-      Colter Phillips, TE, Virginia

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

1-      Chris Faulk, OT, LSU*

2-      Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M*

3-      Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

4-      D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama*

5-      Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan*

6-      Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia

7-      Alex Hurst, OT, LSU

8-      Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse

9-      Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M*

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

1-      Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama

2-      Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

3-      Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

4-      Travis Frederick, OG, Wisconsin*

5-      Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas*

6-      Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky

7-      Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech

8-      Braden Hansen, OG, BYU

9-      Blaize Foltz, OG, TCU

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

1-      Khaled Holmes, C, Southern Cal

2-      Graham Pocic, C, Illinois

3-      Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas*

4-      James Ferentz, C, Iowa

5-      Mario Benavides, C, Louisville

6-      Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson

7-      Matt Stankiewitch, C, Penn State

8-      Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia

9-      Braxton Cave, C, Notre Dame

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

1-      Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU*

2-      Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas*

3-      Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

4-      Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State*

5-      Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

6-      Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

7-      Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina

8-      Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

9-      James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech*

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

1-      Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

2-      Johnathon Hankins, DT, Ohio State*

3-      Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

4-      Bennie Logan, DT, LSU*

5-      Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

6-      Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

7-      Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia

8-      Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois*

9-      Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida*

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

1-      Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame

2-      Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford

3-      Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina

4-      Michael Mauti, ILB, Penn State

5-      Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama

6-      Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State

7-      Jonathan Brown, ILB, Illinois*

8-      Bruce Taylor, ILB, Virginia Tech

9-      Jonathan Bostic, ILB, Florida

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

1-      Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia*

2-      Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU*

3-      Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M

4-      Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State

5-      C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama*

6-      Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State

7-      Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Florida*

8-      Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford

9-      Khaseem Green, OLB, Rutgers

10-   Kenny Tate, OLB, Maryland
Cornerback Rankings:

1-      David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State*

2-      Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State*

3-      Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

4-      Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU*

5-      Jonny Adams, CB, Michigan State

6-      Nickell Robey, CB, Southern Cal*

7-      Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas*

8-      Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State

9-      Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa

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

1-      Eric Reid, FS, LSU*

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

3-      Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas

4-      Robert Lester, FS, Alabama

5-      Tony Jefferson, FS, Oklahoma*

6-      Bacarri Rambo, SS, Georgia

7-      Ray Ray Armstrong, SS, Miami

8-      John Boyett, SS, Oregon

9-      Matt Elam, SS, Florida*

10-   Vaughn Telemaque, FS, Miami

Keleche Osemele is one of the best offensive guard prospects in the country. His combination of size and strength is very intriguing.

Kelechi Osemele, OT, Iowa State- Osemele impressed me tonight. He’s so big and strong that once he locks on he can drive defenders off the ball in the run game. He seems to finish blocks well and will be fine blocking interior defensive linemen because of his great size (listed at 6’6″, 345 pounds) with long arms and great strength. He doesn’t have the foot speed/lateral agility to stick at LT in the NFL in my opinion, and while he might have a shot at RT I think his upside is highest inside at guard. At that spot he is a first round pick. His long arms will help him in pass protection at guard as well, and he doesn’t seem to lean into blocks and reach in pass protection. Doesn’t bend at the waist, he bends at the knees and lets defenders come to him in his stance. He’s a quality prospect, one of the best offensive guard prospects in the country. Don’t have a report on him yet, but I will eventually.

Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State- I can’t say enough about how well Leonard Johnson played tonight. Weeden throws the ball to Blackmon a lot, but a number of times Johnson’s blanket coverage on Blackmon forced Weeden to look at other receivers, hold onto the ball too long and at times force throws. Johnson was very good in man coverage, particularly down the sideline. He did a great job of taking away Weeden’s windows to throw to Blackmon by using the sideline to his advantage and staying right in Blackmon’s hip pocket making it nearly impossible to throw into that window. I wasn’t sure how impressed I was in zone coverage, and even in spite of his great effort mirroring Blackmon for the entire game he still gave up 10 catches for 99 yards and 1 TD. There wasn’t anything he could do about the TD, it was just a terrific play by Blackmon, but he definitely frustrated him and it was a very heated, competitive battle. Additionally, at least three or four of his catches were on screens at the line of scrimmage. Downfield Johnson had very good coverage for the majority of the game. They both seem to be very intense competitors, and while Johnson was jawing at Blackmon more and more throughout the game he never seemed to get so heated that he lost his cool. I had never specifically watched Johnson before, but he left a terrific impression on me tonight. He played great against arguably the best wide receiver in the country.

Brandon Weeden was on top of many Heisman lists prior to this game, but he won't be after his relatively disappointing performance against Iowa State.

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State- Weeden has definitely had better nights. He was checking down a lot and throwing a LOT of bubble screens which kind of bothered me. More importantly he was checking down in critical situations. He was throwing underneath and into the backfield on 3rd downs late in the fourth quarter instead of pushing the ball downfield. Now, Blackmon was well covered overall tonight and if it weren’t for some bubble screens he probably wouldn’t have had many catches, and while Moore and Cooper stepped up when Weeden got them the ball it didn’t seem like he was consistently making good reads and good decisions tonight. He didn’t come up big in crunch time when his team needed him (until he made a nice touchdown throw to Cooper in the first OT which was immediately followed by an interception on a tipped ball that was forced to Blackmon against pretty solid coverage) and that’s a problem for me when evaluating QB prospects. Considering his age, his throwing motion which could stand to be tinkered with to speed up his release, and some of his issues in this close game it’s hard for me to grade him as a 3rd round prospect right now.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State- Blackmon had a good statistical game, but he struggled to create separation against Johnson tonight. Definitely not his best game, and while I’m not sure how many drops he had (may not have had any, but I thought I remembered at least one) he did make some nice catches extending his arms fully and had a terrific play against good man coverage by Johnson as he went up and made a great catch in mid-air as he demonstrated great body control and hands. He scored on that play, and it was definitely a highlight reel play. So while Blackmon didn’t have the best game of his career he still managed to make a couple great catches and plays to help his team. I think he could have done more, but some of that blame has to be placed on Weeden. It was encouraging to see him make plays like that, but at the same time I was hoping to see him step up late in the 4th quarter and in the overtime periods.

Darius Reynolds displayed some upside in this game, and I was particularly impressed with his hand-eye coordination as well as his ability to high point the ball in the air.

Darius Reynolds, WR, Iowa State- Reynolds had a pedestrian game by statistical standards with only 4 catches, 39 yards and 1 touchdown. However, I was impressed with his hands overall (though he did have at least one or two drops) as he made a great catch high pointing the ball well above the defender for his only touchdown in the first half. He almost had a second touchdown but it was ultimately ruled an incompletion. I personally believed it was a touchdown, but regardless of how it was ruled he still made a terrific play to get a hand on the ball, focus on it as he his arm was being grabbed while falling in the air and ultimately reel it in before he hit the ground. Broderick Brown stripped it out after it seemed clear to me that he had maintained control of it, but the referees ruled that there was not indisputable visual evidence to overturn the call of an incomplete pass on the field. Regardless, I had never seen Reynolds play before and he flashed some impressive ability. He’s a late round pick right now, but he flashed some upside tonight.

Jared Barnett, QB, Iowa State- Barnett wasn’t overly impressive in this game statistically, but I was convinced he had poise and composure by how he was playing as the game went on. Then the 4th quarter came about and Barnett made some big time throws and plays to help move Iowa State not only within striking distance but led the comeback to tie the game. He’s a redshirt freshman quarterback but his efforts in this game were very impressive. They weren’t all pretty, but he came up big when his team needed him to.

A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State- Klein is a junior linebacker on Iowa State that impressed me tonight. He seemed to be a reliable tackler, showed some ability in coverage by deflecting a pass or two, and seemed to be around the ball consistently in this game. I’d grade him as a 3rd-4th rounder for the 2013 class as he has some ability, but haven’t seen enough of him yet and I don’t think he’s an elite athlete. I liked what I saw from him tonight though.

Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State- Martin is an athletic player and he had a couple nice plays in coverage tonight. He missed some tackles early in the game and overall I think he earned mixed reviews in this game. He’s an athletic specimen, but I don’t know how high I am on him at this point.

Hopefully you enjoyed my thoughts on the Oklahoma State-Iowa State game. It was sloppy at times, but overall it was a fantastic game and a huge upset. It was definitely a very fun game to watch, and it had a number of legitimate NFL prospects to take a look at. Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Oh how the tables have turned. Just a few short years ago Stanford was the underdog and USC was the powerful program. Now? Stanford is the undefeated team with the inside track to the Rose Bowl.

This was the crown jewel of all the games on the day in my opinion as Stanford won 58-48 in triple overtime to stay undefeated on a day when two top ten teams lost (#5 ranked Clemson and #8 ranked Kansas State), four teams in the top 15 lost (#11 Michigan State and #15 Wisconsin), and six teams in the top 25 overall lost (#16 Texas A&M and #20 Texas Tech). And while that might not seem that significant, consider that seven of the games involving top 25 teams were decided by one score or less. There were a lot of close games, but Stanford managed to hang on for the win. This game was chalk full of NFL Draft prospects and talent, so let’s get to it!

This was a special game because it was a rare opportunity to watch a 7-0 team play a 6-1 squad, but also because of the two quarterbacks that were starting in this game. Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley are my top two QB’s in my current quarterback rankings and I haven’t seen nearly enough from the other quarterbacks to make me consider changing the order at the top. Luck was fantastic in this game and even though he made a poor throw that resulted in a pick six (and seemingly gave USC all of the momentum) it is extremely important to note how he responded to that. He completed four of his six passes on the drive for 32 yards and scrambled for an additional 16 on one run. Then Stepfan Taylor punched it in to even the score with 38 seconds left. A lot of quarterbacks would have fallen apart in that situation, but Luck put the interception out of his mind and led Stanford right down the field for the game-tying score.

Fair or not, Matt Barkley will forever be compared with Andrew Luck if he comes out this year as the consensus #2 draft eligible quarterback.

It is also worthwhile to point out how well Barkley played. His numbers were impressive and I thought overall he placed the ball well in this game, but if Robert Woods had helped him out even a little bit this would have been an entirely different game. Now, I’m very high on Woods and a lot of people will read this and be very surprised since I’ve been talking about how good he is since early in his freshman season. However, he dropped a sure completion that would have had the Trojans inside the ten yard line if he didn’t make it into the end zone in the 1st quarter, and he arguably dropped another touchdown on a 50/50 ball on a fade that he couldn’t come down with (to be fair, he was clearly interfered with and it wasn’t called, but if he wants to be the best then he has to make that catch). Those are two game-changing plays, and I believe he had at least one or two other drops besides those. But that first potential touchdown drop eventually led that drive to stall when it could have tied the game early at 7 all. And before that Barkley was throwing strikes, but after it he seemed to have a little less confidence in his receivers and wasn’t as accurate the rest of the drive. He rebounded, but it’s clear that Woods’ is his favorite target and it definitely threw Barkley off a bit not being able to rely on him like usual. I was personally shocked to see Woods drop multiple passes like that because his hands are usually as reliable as they come. But as the game progressed he was body catching and didn’t seem to have the confidence in his hands that he usually does. It was one of the more surprising things about this game in my opinion.

Barkley was still effective even despite that completing 28 of his 45 passes for 284 yards, a completion percentage of 62.2 and three touchdowns with only one interception. Had Woods not dropped a couple of those passes it is fair to assume he would have had a completion percentage of 66, 300+ yards and at least four touchdowns. That’s a pretty significant impact.

Curtis McNeal has all of Trojan Nation jumping for joy now that he has helped establish a consistent running game for USC's offense.

And even though I have spoken highly of him before on my Twitter I don’t think I have ever formally thrown my support behind USC running back Curtis McNeal on this blog. I have been very impressed with him every time USC gives him carries, and he seems to have some potential as a receiver out of the backfield. In the first four games of the season he had a combined 17 carries for 129 yards (good for a 7.59 ypc average) and no TD’s. 79 of those yards came against Syracuse, but still he didn’t get consistent touches the next week. However, in the last four games when he has been getting some consistent touches he has 68 carries, 424 yards (6.24 ypc average), and 4 touchdowns. That’s quite the bump in production isn’t it? He had the best game of his entire career against Stanford, but unfortunately it will likely be overshadowed by his fumble in the third overtime that Stanford recovered to seal the victory. He had 146 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries in this game, a great game for any running back, and yet one unfortunate play will likely define it for him.

Regardless of how that game ended for McNeal, it’s clear he is very talented. If I’m not mistaken he was a five star recruit coming out of high school and due to USC’s insanely talented backfield this is the first time he’s gotten significant playing time. He isn’t a very big guy at only 5’7″, 180 pounds but he is fast, has great burst and has made the most of the opportunities he has been given so far this season as he has amassed 552 rushing yards and 4 TD’s so far despite only carrying the ball 17 times in the first four games. He’s definitely a player to keep an eye on, and if I was USC I would start him the rest of the season and move on from Marc Tyler. McNeal clearly has much more upside.

Marqise Lee may not be quite as good as Robert Woods, but he is a very impressive freshman receiver in his own right. It's no coincidence that the Trojan offense has started to take off as he has emerged as a legitimate threat opposite Woods.

Another player on USC’s offense that I have become quite taken with is Marqise Lee. He’s only a freshman but he has really stepped up opposite Robert Woods and has made opposing defenses pay for leaving him one on one with a corner while doubling Robert Woods. Lee has had a very impressive start to his USC career with 34 catches, 534 yards and 5 TD’s so far this season. He isn’t as tall as he looks on TV as he stands at 6’0″ and only weighs 190 pounds, but he has the frame to get over 200 pounds easily once he becomes acclimated to USC’s vaunted workout program. But what Lee does have is vertical speed, impressive burst, very reliable hands and plenty of upside. Woods is one of the best receivers in the country right now, but Lee is quietly having a very impressive freshman season of his own.

An underrated performer who I think has a lot of potential for USC is their freshman TE Randall Telfer. He had five catches last night (the most of his career thus far) and on the season has 15 receptions, 172 yards and 3 TD’s. He has great size for such a young TE at 6’4″, 230 pounds and has plenty of room on his frame to add additional weight over the rest of his career as a Trojan. Additionally, he has already become something of a red-zone target due to his size, and he showed reliable hands last night in a huge game against Stanford. He may not be the starter and his stat sheet isn’t glowing, but Telfer has plenty of upside and I’m excited to watch him develop.

Matt Kalil is arguably the best draft eligible tackle prospect in the country, and figures to be a top five selection in the NFL Draft should he declare after his junior season.

As is to be expected, USC has plenty of talent along their offensive and defensive lines too. The two players that everyone was watching yesterday were Matt Kalil and Nick Perry. Kalil is the consensus #1 draft-eligible offensive tackle in the country right now, and while plenty of fans want their bottom dwelling team to “Suck for Luck” I think there are a number of teams that could really stand to “Kneel for Kalil.” The Vikings definitely come to mind when thinking about teams that have awful records but won’t necessarily be looking for a quarterback early in the draft. I don’t think the Vikings will end up with the #1 overall pick, so Luck is likely out of the question (especially if Ponder finds a way to win a couple of games as a starter). I don’t see Barkley as a huge upgrade over Ponder, so while he might make sense I think the Vikings would be wise to surround Ponder with some talent. Left tackle is a serious issue for them, and Kalil is the best one available. Seems like a match made in heaven to me. Kalil isn’t a perfect tackle, but he is about as polished as any offensive tackle prospect I have seen in recent years and has tons of starting experience. Keep in mind it was Kalil’s ability as a left tackle that kept Tyron Smith, an absolute freakish athlete for an offensive lineman, at right tackle while he was at USC. He later went #9 overall to the Dallas Cowboys and seems to be their future at left tackle.

Nick Perry has an intriguing combination of size and athletic ability, but he doesn't strike me as a quick-twitch athlete and I think he needs to significantly improve his hand usage before he will be effective in the NFL.

Nick Perry, on the other hand, isn’t impressing me nearly as much as Kalil. Perry is very athletic and has plenty of upside due to his size (6’3″, 250 pounds) but he just hasn’t put it all together yet. He can speed rush and bull rush, but he has struggled to disengage once he is blocked as a pass rusher and doesn’t seem to have very good hand usage or pass rush moves. This limits him significantly as a pass rusher as he either has to beat his man around the edge or he likely isn’t getting to the QB unless he is left unblocked. He can get off blocks, but usually it is more because of effort than actual technique. This means he is getting to the quarterback later than he could be, and means he is applying less pressure than he is potentially capable of. I think he has upside if he is drafted to a team that has a quality defensive line coach, but USC produces plenty of talented defensive linemen than use their hands better than Perry does, so it makes me wonder exactly why he hasn’t lived up to the hype yet. I thought he was ready to break out this year, and to a certain extent he has. He has 39 total tackles (21 solo), 6.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 pass deflections. However, he hasn’t been anything close to dominant and if he came out this season I would project him in the 3rd round as a player with plenty of upside but limited production. He’s worth the risk in that area of the draft, but he just hasn’t shown me enough to consider him as early as the 2nd round, much less the 1st round.

DaJohn Harris' statline may not wow potential talent evaluators, but he has been consistently disruptive at defensive tackle for USC this season.

I know it may seem like I am obsessed with USC, but everyone knows they are always loaded with talent so it takes a while to get through their roster when I break their games down in this format. Three players that I really like on USC’s defense are DaJohn Harris, Dion Bailey and Nickell Robey. Harris is a 6’4″, 310 pound senior defensive tackle who has consistently impressed me when I have watched him. As will often happen with interior defensive linemen, their true impact can’t be gleaned from a stat sheet. Harris only has 17 total tackles (9 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks and an impressive 5 pass break-ups on the season, but he has consistently penetrated into the backfield (as evidenced by his 6 tackles for loss) and helped free up his linebackers to make plays. He absolutely has NFL size and ability, and he has definitely been helping his stock this season. I am very much looking forward to seeing him at a post-season all-star game this year, my guess would be the Senior Bowl.

Now, Dion Bailey may only be a freshman but he is a very impressive player. He was initially a safety, but USC moved him into the box as a linebacker and he has taken off ever since. He has been incredibly productive for a freshman still adjusting to a new position as he has 67 total tackles (39 solo), 2.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 interceptions, 2 pass break-ups and 1 forced fumble. That would be a fantastic stat line for any freshman linebacker after an entire season, but that is what Bailey has managed in only 8 games! He may not be a huge player at only 6’0″, 200 pounds, but he has room to add weight to his frame and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him playing at around 220 pounds at the start of his sophomore season next year. Bailey has incredible potential because of his combination of reliable tackling, his pop as a hitter, his instincts and ability in coverage as well as his ball skills because of his experience as a safety. He’s an exciting player, and I can’t wait to see him develop into the top talent I expect him to be.

Nickell Robey has been displaying his impressive ball skills since he got to USC last year, and in this game he not only forced a rare Andrew Luck interception, but he returned it for a USC touchdown.

And finally, we have Nickell Robey. Most of you will recognize him as the corner who drove on the throw by Andrew Luck, picked it off and returned it for a touchdown last night. And even though I have never talked about him on my blog, he has been making plays all season long. Robey is only a 5’8, 165 pound sophomore but he has plenty of ability as evidenced not only by his pick-six on Andrew Luck, but by his stat line. He has produced 41 total tackles (23 solo), 0.5 TFL, 2 INT’s (including 1 TD) as well as a very impressive 6 pass break-ups. He may only be a sophomore and he doesn’t have impressive size by any means, but he has plenty of speed, burst and ball skills to be an impact corner for USC. Their defense is slowly becoming more and more talented, and Robey may be one of their key players next year as they look to take the next step as a defense.

Now, while I have talked about plenty of USC players already I feel it is necessary to discuss T.J. McDonald briefly. McDonald has tons of upside due to his fantastic combination of size and athletic ability and he has been productive this season. At 6’3″, 205 pounds  he has produced 41 total tackles (24 solo), 1.5 TFL, 2 INT’s and one pass break-up. McDonald is solid in coverage, but he also loves to deliver the big hit. Unfortunately, even though he is a good tackler and has plenty of pop as a hitter, he has a tendency to draw personal foul penalties for his bone-crushing hits. They aren’t always good calls (such as the terrible personal foul call he drew for lighting up Chris Owusu of Stanford last night) but referees are looking for hits anywhere near the head and they are practically willing to call a wideout with the ball in his hands a defenseless receiver these days. He has to know that and make sure he doesn’t give the refs any reason to call a penalty on him, but game after game he draws these flags. He has plenty of upside, but his inconsistency is an issue for me. I’m not sold on his instincts and his ability in coverage either. So while he might look like a first round pick lining up for USC, I am not so sure.

Coby Fleener is a very well rounded tight end and he figures to be a first or second day draft pick after he graduates at the end of this season.

Finally, I’m done with USC! Now on to Stanford, a very talented team in their own right. I think the most notable part of Stanford outside of their fantastic quarterback is their absurd amount of talent at tight end. I believe they have at least three NFL caliber tight ends on their rosters (all draft eligible actually, though I wouldn’t expect all three to leave) and I think they are hiding one or two more listing them as fullbacks! The best of the bunch is arguably Coby Fleener, a 6’6″, 244 pound TE who has great hands and is a very willing blocker. You practically have to be to get playing time in Stanford’s physical pro-style offense, and while I haven’t scouted Fleener specifically I have been impressed with him when I have seen him play. Their second TE is Zach Ertz, who actually has five more receptions than Fleener does on the season (though Fleener has 7 TD’s to Ertz’s 3). Ertz, a junior, stands at 6’6″, 249 pounds and gives Stanford almost an additional two offensive linemen when he and Fleener line up on the field at the same time. Their third TE is Levine Toilolo who is an absolutely massive 6’8″, 263 pound junior. Even as the #3 TE option he has 12 receptions, 210 yards and 4 TD’s on the year. When he was split out against a defensive back I just knew Andrew Luck was going to throw a fade to him and lo-and-behold that was the play-call, and Toilolo didn’t disappoint even though the ball was thrown slightly behind him and didn’t allow him to go up and high point it in the air. One of the guys Stanford is hiding as a fullback is a guy I think will stick at TE in the NFL. Ryan Hewitt, a 6’4″, 238 pound “fullback” is a quality pass catcher who has 19 receptions, 171 yards and 4 TD’s on the season. I see him as more of an H-Back in the NFL, though he does have 7 carries for 21 yards on the year. He would be awfully tall for a fullback, but I definitely think he has a future in the NFl as well.

Needless to say, Stanford is absolutely stacked at the TE position and I can’t wait to scout all of them in the future. They all have bright futures in the NFL in my opinion.

Jonathan Martin has helped make life easy for Andrew Luck by protecting his blind side in college, but I am not 100% sold on him being a quality blind side protector at the next level.

Before continuing on to other Stanford prospects, Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro need to be discussed. Martin is one of the top OT’s available in the 2012 NFL Draft and DeCastro may be the top offensive guard in the country right now. I am not 100% sold on Martin being a NFL left tackle, but he has the potential to stick at that position and if he doesn’t I would be surprised if he didn’t end up being a starter at right tackle in the NFL. He struggled at times with Nick Perry’s athleticism and speed rush, but overall I thought he had a good game before his injury. I haven’t scouted Martin or DeCastro specifically, but they are without a doubt the anchors of that offensive line and the big guys up front set the tone for this entire Stanford team with their physicality and their willingness to do the dirty work so Luck and the other position players get all the glory. Keep an eye on these two offensive linemen, they are both very good.

It’s hard to argue that anyone has benefited more from Andrew Luck’s presence than Stepfan Taylor, Stanford’s starting running back. Playing in such a physical offense, it’s only natural that you would want to stack the box against Stanford’s rushing attack. However, with Luck at QB it is nearly impossible to take away their running game because if you don’t respect Luck as a passer he will absolutely shred you (and sometimes he does this even when you are trying to take him away as a passer). This has helped the 5’11”, 208 pound junior tailback produce 796 yards on only 134 carries (a 5.94 ypc average) as well as 8 touchdowns. He has also shown soft hands out of the backfield, catching 16 passes for 106 yards and another score. It is unclear whether or not Taylor plans to come back for his senior season or not, but after Luck leaves he won’t have much to prove after potentially having consecutive 1,000+ yard rushing seasons as well as 10+ touchdowns (he had 1,137 yards and 15 TD’s as a sophomore). Plus, teams will be much more willing to stack the box, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Taylor left. I haven’t scouted him as much as I might like, but while he doesn’t have burning speed he does have the potential to be a feature back. I was always impressed with him when he relieved Gerhart as a freshman, and that hasn’t changed.

If Taylor does leave, that would likely leave the workload to current junior running back Tyler Gaffney. Gaffney has impressed me when giving Taylor a breather, but that’s not hard to do with such a great offensive line as well as so many tight ends that block effectively. Gaffney will be a senior next year and I’m sure he is hoping Taylor leaves so that he can get a shot at being the workhorse. Gaffney is bigger than Taylor is, standing at 6’1″, 216 pounds. This year he has 41 carries for 288 yards (a 6.86 ypc average) as well as 5 TD’s. His yardage and touchdown totals have already exceeded his numbers from his sophomore year (255 yards and 4 TD’s in 10 games) and he has done it in only 8 games with 19 fewer carries! Gaffney may not be the workhorse yet, but I hope he gets his chance to be as a senior next year.

Chase Thomas has had an extremely productive career at linebacker for Stanford, and as a result he is starting to get serious NFL looks.

And before I wrap this post up, it would be impossible not to talk about Stanford without talking about Chase Thomas, their all-everything outside linebacker. Thomas has quality linebacker size at 6’4″, 239 pounds and has had a fantastic career at Stanford. Since he got significant playing time as a sophomore he has been terrific. His sophomore year he had 36 total tackles (20 solo), 7.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and one blocked kick. Then as a junior he produced 69 total tackles (49 solo), 11.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble and three pass break-ups. He has been even more spectacular this year, notching 34 total tackles (22 solo), 11.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in Stanford’s first 8 games. He has a great chance at notching 60 total tackles (with 40 solos), 15+ TFL, 7.5+ sacks and four or more forced fumbles on the season. That would be an incredible stat line. He didn’t have a sack against Matt Kalil, but he did manage 1.5 TFL’s on the day against USC. I haven’t scouted him specifically yet, so I don’t know exactly what he is capable of, but having seen him play multiple times I do know that he is a very talented player with a great history of production.

So, at long last, I have completed my thoughts on the Stanford-USC game. It was more of a prospect round-up than actual thoughts on the game, but it was such a good game with so much talent that I just had to break down some of the prospects that you all need to keep an eye on. Hopefully you enjoyed it, and I apologize for the length of the post. It took about three hours of constant writing and research to look up stats for this article to complete it, so thanks for reading!

–Tom

East Practice Notes: Day 3

Quarterbacks:

Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware:

Devlin looked a bit better today, he had a couple nice throws that showed good ball placement and accuracy, more like you might be used to if you’ve seen him play in college. His arm strength isn’t as good as I have heard some say, it’s solid but his zip is only adequate on his throws. Because he is at Delaware people are naturally hoping for him to be the next Flacco with a rocket arm, but he is a more accurate passer with only above-average arm strength in my opinion. His progression to a QB who plays from under center will take time, but he bobbled the first two snaps he took from under center when warming up this week, so even though I think he bobbled one today he has certainly showed improvement, and that’s all you want to see with a QB moving from a spread/shotgun offense.

Halfbacks:

Graig Cooper, RB, Miami:

I was a big Cooper fan before his injury so it’s good to see him playing again and getting his quickness back. There were a few times today that you could notice his quickness and burst coming back when his offensive line allowed penetration and he was able to quickly change direction and find room to run. He seems to have good vision, he definitely has some of his burst and quickness back which is great to see. His injury was a pretty bad one. He looked good catching passes out of the backfield as well. So with his speed coming back (his 40 time will be important for him as well as other times at the combine), him running well, catching the ball out of the backfield and potentially adding value on kick returns (if he is truly coming back healthy he can be a very valuable returner) he definitely warrants a mid-round pick if he checks out medically. Good to see him back! Hopefully I’ll be able to talk to him tomorrow.

Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse:

Carter has been the most impressive back this week in my opinion. I think he is probably the best feature back prospect here. He’s short but well built and he has huge legs, especially for only being about 5’9”. He generates  a lot of power, has shown good speed, quickness and soft hands out of the backfield. He has definitely helped himself this week and continued his strong play after his huge game against Kansas State in Syracuse’s bowl game. I’d love to interview him as well.

Anthony Sherman, FB, Connecticut:

I love Sherman as a FB prospect. He runs hard, keeps his pads low and has good hands out of the backfield. He has impressed me this week, and I think he definitely deserves mid-round consideration as a fullback in the NFL.

Wide Receivers:

Terrence Toliver, WR, LSU:

Toliver has had a good week of practice and continues to show his good hands, flash good route running and showed a little ability to catch the ball in traffic today. Largely I think he is a finesse receiver, which isn’t a bad thing, but it limits his potential when going over the middle. However, he has officially been invited to the Senior Bowl next week to replace Jerrel Jernigan, who was injured while training apparently. It’s too bad for Jernigan, but it’s a great opportunity to show what he can do against even better competition in the Senior Bowl.

Perry Baker, WR, Fairmont State:

I really like what I have seen from Baker this week. He’s extremely skinny and while he doesn’t have a huge frame he definitely needs to add weight and get stronger overall, especially in the arms and legs. However, he does have strong hands and he showed that on the field and when he gave me a firm handshake when I introduced myself. He looks like a totally different player than he did at the beginning of the first practice and I am glad that he progressed so much this week. He even had a nice block on a safety today with a lot of pop! I never would have expected him to hit like that. He is definitely a draftable player and I think he has a NFL future in the slot. His route running has definitely progressed this week, he has been creating consistent separation on the corners on the East this week.

Offensive Linemen:

Chris Hairston, OT, Clemson:

Hairston is a huge guy and has long arms (34.75 inches when measured) and I think he has some potential at RT. He has a solid punch and shows the ability to use his long arms to keep the defender at bay, and did a good job of forcing Trattou wide during one on one drills. He struggles with speed and I don’t think he has very good feet, but he has potential value at RT.

David Arkin, OG, Missouri State:

Arkin started off well but has struggled a bit the last couple days. I think he could stand to get stronger in the lower body which would help him anchor as a pass blocker and get more drive as a run blocker. He’s a small school guy and he has shown some ability against better competition, but Martin Parker has beaten him a number of times this week. I think he has some ability, but is probably a mid-late round pick after what I’ve seen this week. Maybe 5th round?

Defensive Linemen:

Martin Parker, DT, Richmond:

Parker continued to impress today and he did a good job getting off the ball and showed a nice swim move in one on one drills. It is clearly his go-to move, but it is apparent that he needs to develop other moves to use because he went to the swim move well a couple times too many and became a bit predictable with that move right off the snap. It works, but he needs to develop other moves to help keep the blockers off balance. But he has good size, arm length, quickness off the ball and he has a good swim move already. He has definitely helped himself this week, and I think he’d be a good fit in a scheme that asks their defensive linemen to penetrate and get into the backfield.

Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina:

Austin continues to impress, but I think it is fair to say he is not quite in football shape yet. I don’t know if he will garner a late invitation to the Senior Bowl, but I would love to see him there if he did get an invitation. He has looked good this week, shown some violent hands, has drawn a number of double teams, but seems to have worn down as practice goes on. He isn’t carrying too much weight, I just don’t think he is used to playing football like this yet because of his time off from the game. He has definitely helped himself this week, but we all know he had ability. I just want to see consistency from him which we haven’t exactly seen yet. I have seen him get blocked one on one in pass protection a number of times this week which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he has the ability to dominate some of these guys and I was left wanting a little more in that regard.

Terrell McClain, DT, South Florida:

I haven’t had a lot of notes on McClain up until this point because he never really stuck out to me. He’d get into the backfield here or there, but I don’t think he is good enough off the snap to consistently penetrate into the backfield in the NFL. I think he might have some value as a space eater as he has a wide build, long arms and stocky size at 6’1.5” and 305 pounds. That should net him mid-late round consideration, but I haven’t seen a ton from him as a pass rusher. He had a nice spin move on Ryan Bartholomew today in one on one’s, but like I said I have only seen a flash every once in a while of him penetrating or collapsing the pocket this week.

Justin Trattou, DE, Florida:

I haven’t had a lot of notes on Trattou this week either, but he has solid size, arm length and good hand usage. He doesn’t have much speed off the edge, so weighing in at only 254 pounds will really hurt him. He has struggled to get the edge in one on one drills this week with speed, so I don’t think he will be much of a speed rusher in the NFL. I think he will have to dedicate to filling out his frame to be a rotational DE in a 4-3 or maybe really bulk up his 6’3” frame and try to get to 275+ to try playing 3-4 DE. That’s a lot of weight to put on and while I definitely think he has room to add weight I don’t know if he has room to put on 30 pounds or more. He seems to be a hard worker though, and like I said I like his hand usage and strength, but right now he is not fast enough off the ball to consistently rush the passer at 4-3 DE and he is way too small to hold up at 3-4 DE.

Linebackers:

Akeem Dent, ILB, Georgia:

Dent continues to fill well, get in position to make tackles and generally be around the ball (especially against the run). I don’t think he is a perfect fit for a 4-3 because he has some struggles in coverage, doesn’t have very good hips and I’m not sure how well he runs, but I think he is a perfect fit for a 3-4 ILB. He plays so well downhill, has such a great knowledge and understanding of gap responsibility, and even though he hasn’t been able to show it this week I think he has good value as a blitzer. I will hopefully have an interview with him as well as a number of other guys, but I am really high on Dent (especially as a 3-4 ILB).

Greg Lloyd II, ILB, Connecticut:

Greg has had a good week, continues to flow to the ball well, show good instincts and get in position to make tackles. I don’t know where his stock is at right now, but I really like him as a 3-4 ILB prospect. I’d say Dent is a better inside linebacker prospect at this point but I have seen more of him than I have of Greg. I will definitely have an interview of Greg this week and just in talking to him a bit after practice he seems to be a great guy, very smart and easy going. I have a feeling he will impress in interviews, and he seemed to take control of the defensive unit he has played with this week each day which I love to see.

Bruce Miller, LB, UCF:

Miller has a great motor, he is a heads up player and he has solid speed, but he just doesn’t have the get-off or the edge speed to stick at DE in a 4-3. His arm length has hurt him this week as he has struggled to get off blocks from guys with longer arms like Jah Reid and Chris Hairston, both of whom have struggled with speed this week. I have heard he will have to move to linebacker, but I think his only hope there is to move to inside linebacker, probably in a 3-4. I don’t know how he is in coverage at all, but even if he doesn’t have an ideal position as a starter on a defense I think he definitely warrants late round consideration or priority free agent value because of what he could bring as a special teamer. His motor, effort, heads up play and tackling will be valuable there even if he doesn’t fit in perfectly in any scheme at the next level.

Defensive Backs:

Justin Rogers, CB, Richmond:

Rogers continues to have a good week. I like him the best out of the four corners on the East, and I like him about as well as I like Lindsey on the West. He has pretty good footwork, closes well, has long arms for his size and has generally just been good in coverage this week. He has definitely helped himself. However, he doesn’t have very good hands for the interception despite his ability to make plays on the ball to deflect it away, and he has small hands. I don’t think he will ever get a lot of interceptions at the NFL, but a guy with his closing speed and vertical could definitely get his hands on some passes.

Thanks for reading! There is still more to come.

–Tom

Quarterbacks:

Pat Devlin, QB, Delaware:

Devlin had a pretty off practice today. In one on one’s he threw high on probably five or six throws, and this is without pressure since it’s just a one on one match-up for the corner. He struggled with ball placement and though his throws had pretty good zip he was letting them get away from him a bit. He flashed impressive ball placement a couple times, including a nice throw on a slant to Toliver. He showed some good anticipation, zip and accuracy on the throw by hitting Toliver in the hole in the zone on the slant. However, he seemed to be checking down faster than I’d like and on a couple plays he missed an open receiver (Perry Baker twice) so I am wondering about his ability to read defenses a little bit. He has pretty good size and arm strength, but his accuracy was not there today.

Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech:

Taylor had a pretty off practice as well. He overthrew a couple receivers and didn’t have very good ball placement either. He has the arm strength, I am just waiting for him to start placing his throws better. I know he can do it, but he hasn’t shown it yet this week. I talked to him today about an interview and he seemed open to it, hopefully I will be able to get that done in the next couple days.

Ricky Dobbs, QB, Navy:

Didn’t see him throw much today, but when I did his passes were usually off target. He struggled making reads today as well, more obviously than Devlin and Taylor did in my opinion. I’m pretty convinced that he is going to be a wildcat QB only at the next level. He will have to convert to RB.

Halfbacks:

Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse:

Carter looks fast, he has good feet from what I can tell and though I didn’t pay much attention to him today specifically he looks good. He continues to show pretty soft hands.

Graig Cooper, RB, Miami:

He got stuffed a couple times in the run game, once by Marvin Austin, but I’m not sure they are good reflections of his vision or his quickness. He has pretty good hands, I believe he caught a pass out of the flat today.

Evan Royster, RB, Penn State:

Royster didn’t impress me much again today, there was a throw to him in the flat that he only got his left hand on from Devlin, wasn’t placed very well. Still doesn’t look very quick or fast to me.

Wide Receivers:

Perry Baker, WR, Fairmont State:

This kid blew me away at the beginning of practice today. Yesterday he was dropping easy passes without a defender guarding him and today he was making snags away from his body after creating some separation in one on one drills. He didn’t look quite as fast with pads on, but he still moves well. He needs work on his route running, but he definitely has the suddenness, the speed and the burst to be an effective route runner, just has to work at it. His hands look totally different than they did yesterday, he had to be nervous at the beginning of practice. He showed some route running ability by getting separation on Van Dyke and running a nice curl on Justin Rogers (who has looked great) and running it so well that Rogers lost his footing and fell down as Baker made his break. He made a body catch later in the practice, so his hands aren’t amazing, nor is his route running, but he looks much better today than he did at the start of yesterday’s practice. He looked like a different player almost. I’ll be looking for more consistency later in the week, hopefully I will be able to talk to him and get an interview.

Lester Jean, WR, FAU:

Jean had a much better practice today as well. He doesn’t run very good routes, but he has some suddenness and he absolutely shook Van Dyke on one route and got a lot of separation. He showed much better hands and caught the ball well away from his body and even dug out a low throw for a nice catch. He struggles with his footwork when running routes though, and it limits his ability to create separation. I’m not sure how much quickness he will ever have coming in and out of breaks, but he does have good speed and looked fast in pads today. He also showed some ability to adjust to the ball when it is in the air, which is good. With his size, speed and potentially good hands he presents some value to be sure. He looked much better today than he did yesterday. He and Baker had great practices.

Terrence Toliver, WR, LSU:

Toliver is my favorite WR here and he had an up and down practice, but is definitely still the best WR here in my opinion. He has very reliable hands though he dropped two passes that I saw today and both of them involved contact. On one play he ran a good slant route and caught the ball but as he caught it Josh Thomas, a corner from Buffalo, laid a big hit on him and jarred the ball loose. Later he ran another slant and shied away from contact that he knew was coming a bit and didn’t make a play on the ball, though it was not very well thrown. It’s pretty apparent that he doesn’t like contact and is more of a finesse receiver, so I don’t think he will want to go over the middle a lot in the NFL. However, his hands are the best of the receivers here in my opinion and he showed some good route running today. He absolutely burned Mario Butler on one long play but it was over thrown. He looks like a solid 3rd or 4th rounder to me for sure.

Cecil Shorts, WR, Mount Union:

Shorts started out slow today and actually lost his footing a few times at the beginning and one more time later in the practice. He was tentative in his breaks after the initial footing problems and you could tell he was taking his breaks a bit slower to make sure he didn’t fall down so he didn’t waste the rep. He adjusts pretty well to the ball, but his hands are inconsistent in my opinion. He drops some catchable balls and also brings some in. He looks like a 5th/6th round guy to me right now.

Terrence Turner, WR, Indiana:

Turner seems to be the worst wide receiver on the East squad. He has struggled to create separation, he doesn’t have very good speed and his hands are inconsistent. He’s had a tough couple of days.

Tight Ends:

Charles Gantt, TE, Michigan State:

I didn’t see much of Gantt today but he seems to have solid hands. I want to see him blocking more because I have heard a lot of good things about him as a blocker.

Offensive Linemen:

David Arkin, OG, Missouri State:

Arkin had an up and down day. A couple times he had effective blocks on Marvin Austin but Austin also beat him on a couple run plays, though he looked good in pass protection against him. Arkin struggled against Martin Parker, the DT from Richmond. This is going to be a really interesting match-up to watch because they have had some good battles already in the first two days. Arkin got beat by a nice swim move by Parker and then Parker bull rushed Arkin into the pocket again. Arkin definitely has some ability though, he just needs to play with more consistent leverage.

Chris Hairston, OT, Clemson:

I haven’t been very impressed with Hairston. He is huge but he doesn’t look like he has good feet and he got away with a hold, a pretty blatant one where he was just tugging with one arm on the DE’s jersey as he ran around him to try to pursue from the backside on a running play up the middle. He looks like a late round pick to me so far.

Defensive Linemen:

Martin Parker, DT, Richmond:

Parker had a pretty good day when I saw him today. He beat Arkin twice with swim moves and bull-rushed him into the pocket effectively on another play. He has a pretty wide body and he has natural leverage because of his size, he seems to be strong as well. In a system that likes defensive tackles to penetrate and get upfield he definitely has some value.

Marvin Austin, DT, North Carolina:

Austin had a solid practice, but it wasn’t dominating. He shows signs of his great ability but he drew a lot of doubles today. He fought hard against them but when you are doubled there’s not a lot you can do. He also struggled a bit to get off blocks from Arkin in pass protection, but did a bit better versus the run. He holds his ground well versus one on one blocks for the most part, and shows some violent hands to shed at times. His hand usage could be more consistent in my opinion.

Linebackers:

Greg Lloyd, ILB, Connecticut:

Greg looked good today, he played well. He fills well versus the run and a couple times he read the play in literally half a second and then moved well in pursuit. He plays well downhill and I think he could be a perfect fit as an ILB in a 3-4 defense. I am not sure how comfortable he is in coverage, as he looks a bit tentative at times. I’ll be watching him in that aspect this week. But I think he’s a perfect fit in a 3-4.

Akeem Dent, ILB, Georgia:

I really like Dent and he continues to fill well versus the run and put himself in position to make tackles in the running game. Like Greg I think he is a perfect fit in a 3-4 defense at ILB, and I am not sure how good he is in coverage. I try to watch him but there is a lot going on, so it’s hard to do at times. However, I am very high on Dent. He is a tackling machine.

Brian Rolle, OLB, Ohio State:

Rolle is an agile player and he looked very comfortable in coverage to me today, especially in zone. He is still very undersized though, and that hurts him against the run.

Defensive Backs:

Justin Rogers, CB, Richmond:

Rogers looks like the best corner on the East to me. He has a great motor, pretty good closing speed and he makes plays on the ball and has had a bunch of pass deflections in the first two days of practice. He’s a smaller guy but I love his effort and his ball skills. I don’t know how he is at tackling yet since they haven’t been tackling practices. He has had good coverage for the most part, but Baker did break his ankles on one curl route. However, he stuck with Baker on a streak route stride for stride. He has had a great couple days of practice.

Mario Butler, CB, Georgia Tech:

Butler has not impressed me thus far. He got worked a couple times today in coverage though on a couple bad throws he managed to make a play on the ball for a deflection. He has just underwhelmed me thus far, he doesn’t seem like a mid-round pick to me right now.

Josh Thomas, CB, Buffalo:

Thomas had a solid practice today. He laid a couple big hits on people, both of them jarring passes incomplete when they would have normally been catches. He definitely packs some punch as a hitter. I’m not sure how well he locates the ball in the air, but I’ll be watching him more later this week.

Demarcus Van Dyke, CB, Miami:

Van Dyke has struggled a lot the past couple days. He got worked on a few routes today and gave up pretty easy separation to the receivers he was defending and didn’t seem to have much ability to make up ground or close to make a play on the ball. He has definitely been the worst corner for the East.

Jonathan Nelson, S, Oklahoma:

I didn’t see much of Nelson today but he did intercept a pass off of Pat Devlin during practice. Devlin threw the ball late and was staring his receiver down and Nelson read his eyes well, got in front of it and made a nice interception look pretty easy.

Hopefully you enjoyed these notes, thanks for reading! Look out for more posts the rest of the week!

–Tom

I recently re-watched this game to take a look at a number of the prospects on Wisconsin and on Miami. There were so many that I have to split it up into two parts much like I did with the Virginia Tech-Tennessee write-up that I did a couple of weeks ago. Here is my write-up for all of the Wisconsin players I took notes on:

Kendricks may very well be my favorite TE in this draft class. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

There were a lot of players for me to take notes on in this game, but none of them stuck out more than Lance Kendricks, a TE on Wisconsin. He was only a junior in this game, but he arguably the best game of his career against Miami with at least 8 catches and well over 100 yards, many of the catches came on critical first down conversions, and he did a great job of catching every pass with his hands and getting quality yards after the catch. He also did a very good job of sealing the edge on a number of good run plays, and even gave Alan Bailey, a stand-out defensive lineman on Miami, trouble in one on one blocking situations. Overall, Kendricks was the best player in this game as far as I’m concerned, and he is definitely one of my favorite TE’s in the draft next year. Heck, he might be my favorite. If he wasn’t so good already I would have him as my sleeper without a doubt. I can’t wait to see him play this season.

I also took a lot of notes on Scott Tolzien, who had a solid game against Miami. He had a good number of yards, and aside from an unlucky interception that came after one of his passes was deflected at the line and intercepted by a defensive lineman, he didn’t make many mistakes (if any) by throwing the ball into coverage. He took what the defense gave him and usually that involved a pass to Lance Kendricks or Garrett Graham. He has solid footwork, decent arm strength and decent accuracy, but he is not a stand-out in any area. He flashed some pocket poise, but other times he would get happy feet and rush a throw or get outside of the pocket unnecessarily. Not many of his throws were NFL caliber throws, meaning you have to have NFL quality arm strength and accuracy to make the throw. Usually his man was open or a few times he would throw the ball up and let his man go make a play on it. He had decent timing, but I am not sure how good he is at anticipating what will happen on any given play. He seems to do an ok job of pre-snap reads, and at times he would check out of a play, but other times Miami would be showing a blitz (often in the 2nd half they would bring a run blitz on 1st down to try to force Wisconsin into 2nd and 3rd and long situations) and he would just leave the play as is and they would get stuffed for a short gain or a loss. This is partially on Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator for getting extremely predictable and calling a run play on at least nine first downs in a row without throwing a pass, but it is also partially on Tolzien because I think he has the ability to check out of a bad play-call like that. It was hard to watch that kind of ineptitude over and over.

Tolzien still looks like a game manager to me, but I am interested to see how he progresses in his second season as a starter.

So my impression of Tolzien hasn’t really changed. Wisconsin lives off the run game, especially John Clay, and Tolzien just has to manage the game, not force throws into coverage, and convert some 3rd downs when he is asked to. Early in the game Wisconsin was very conservative on 3rd and long, and would almost just give up on the drive if they were in a 3rd and long. But as the game went on Tolzien got more confident and regularly found Kendricks or Graham on 3rd and long to extend the drive. So, Tolzien might not look like a quality NFL starter, but he looks like a 7th round/UDFA type player who could end up on a practice squad. I’m not sure he is #3 QB material yet, but he will have a year to prove that he can still develop and get better, so it will be interesting to see how he does in his second season as a starter this year.

Obviously you have to take note of how John Clay does when you watch Wisconsin, and he had a good game today. He played through some kind of ankle injury that he suffered during the game but he had an effective day and eclipsed the 100 yard mark yet again. He runs hard, finishes runs strong and runs through arm tackles with ease. He doesn’t have much burst, and I think he is going to be more of a one dimensional power-back in the NFL if he doesn’t show that he can block on 3rd downs in the backfield or threaten defenses as a receiver out of the backfield. He had a catch or two underneath in this game, but he needs to show more than that to make me think he is a reliable option out of the backfield. Right now I think he is more of a 3rd or 4th round prospect, but next year I would like to see him play at a lighter weight than 248 pounds, which is what he was listed at. I have a feeling he was heavier than 250 in this game, and he really seemed to have a gut when he would stand up straight or lean over before the play would start. If he could get down to under 240 I think he would be more effective, he wouldn’t wear down as easily, he would have better stamina and he might have more of a burst to hit the hole when he finds it. He is a quality power-back right now, but I don’t think he is going to be a high draft pick if he doesn’t get in better shape. Just imagine a leaner version of Clay with more strength, less fat and a little more quickness. He would be very hard to slow down. Hopefully someone is in his ear telling him this so he can terrorize the Big 10 again next year.

John Clay is a true power back, but it would really help his draft stock if he could show the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and to block on passing downs.

Nick Toon is a receiver who is really flying under the radar but I love his game. He gets good separation, has solid size and does a good job of catching passes away from his body with his hands. He has nearly made some spectacular catches along the sideline, and if Tolzien had helped him out a bit he could have come down with a big catch on a deep ball down the sideline. When I watched it live I definitely thought it was a catch, so he nearly got his feet in-bounds. I think that Toon will emerge some more this season, and I really think he is a good sleeper candidate for his class. I would be surprised if he declared after his junior year this season, but I think he could solidify his draft stock for a big push as a senior with another good year this year. I am excited to see how he builds upon his 800+ yard season as a sophomore.

I have become quite fond of scouting offensive linemen, and Wisconsin is usually a good unit to scout for that, especially if you like good run blockers. Wisconsin has three pretty good upper classmen this year: Gabe Carimi, their LT, Josh Oglesby, their RT (who is a junior), and John Moffit, who plays C and OG. Carimi and Moffitt are both seniors. I took some notes on them, but this wasn’t exactly a banner day for any of them.

Carimi may be best prospect out of the three, so I will start with him. My general impression of him is that he will have to slide over to RT in the NFL. He is a pretty good run blocker, but he isn’t the drive blocker I thought he might be when I started watching this game initially. He can get some push off the line, but he doesn’t dominate his man in the running game like Jake Long did at Michigan. However, he doesn’t look especially fluid as a pass blocker, nor does he seem mirror speed rushers particularly well. Miami has a couple of good speed rushers, and he didn’t really get beat in this game, but I personally think his ceiling is higher at RT. Naturally I will need to watch more of him, especially from a pass blocking standpoint, because if I had taken notes on him, Oglesby and Moffitt on every snap this would have taken hours longer for me to scout. However, my impression remains unchanged that he has a higher ceiling at RT than at LT in the NFL, though potentially he could start at RT and be a back-up at LT that could play there in a pinch. He didn’t really look like a 1st rounder in this game to me, but he is still a quality OT prospect despite that.

Carimi is a quality tackle prospect, but I don't think he is a 1st round talent right now.

Next I will break down Moffitt a bit for you. I actually anticipated him playing at OG in this game, so I was a little surprised to see him inside at center. He looked good on every snap though, I don’t believe I recorded a bad snap from him when Tolzien was under center or when he was in shotgun, which is pretty impressive for a guy who spent a lot of last year playing offensive guard. If center is his true NFL position then he could be a pretty rare prospect because of his ability to block effectively in the run game. He’s a pretty big guy, and he has the ability to block a defensive tackle one on one, which is extremely rare for a center. However, I think he may slide outside to guard in the NFL, even though I think he projects just fine to the pivot spot. He should be a solid guard, a pretty good run blocker and a pretty good pass protector, but I wouldn’t grade him any higher than a 3rd rounder or maybe a 4th rounder right now. Obviously I will have to see how he does as a senior, but he looks like a solid OG prospect and a potentially good center prospect to me right now.

Oglesby is a bit different from Carimi and Moffitt. Those two guys are pretty fundamentally sound, they don’t make a lot of mistakes, and they are two of the leaders on that offensive line. Oh, and Carimi came back from a knee injury in this game when he got rolled up on from behind. He just walked it off and came back in, that was impressive. But Oglesby is a huge RT with long arms, but he isn’t as fundamentally sound. He is an effective run blocker more-so because of his size than his technique, and he leans a lot into his blocks and ends up on the ground his fair share. He is usually just bigger than the guy he is blocking, so his fundamentals don’t need to be very well developed in order for him to move him off the line or to get him to the ground. But when he has to pass protect his size isn’t a significant advantage like it is versus the run, and he doesn’t look like he has good footwork or lateral agility. That becomes an issue when he is asked to neutralize speed rushers. When he can get his hands on the defender he can usually neutralize him with relative effectiveness, but if he has to mirror a speed rush he can have some issues. He needs to do what he can to improve his lateral agility and really work hard to improve his footwork or he is going to have serious issues trying to play RT in the NFL. He has great size and strength, but he needs to polish his fundamentals a lot.

Watt has impressive size but he was too quick for Orlando Franklin versus the run in this game.

JJ Watt is an intriguing defensive end with good size and athletic ability. I didn’t watch him on every play, but he seems to have a pretty good motor, and he does a good job of getting upfield and penetrating into the backfield. There were a few plays he disrupted for a loss in this game, and he looked like he was too quick for Orlando Franklin versus the run. He also does a good job of getting his hands up in passing lanes to knock down passes or alter throws, as he had one or two pass deflections against Miami. There were a couple plays that he misread or did not keep contain on, and on both plays it allowed the Miami ball-carrier to bounce outside and to gain some yardage. He needs to work on keeping contain, not overreacting to the run, and I’m not sure how good his hand usage is. I need to watch him on a snap to snap basis to evaluate his burst off the snap, how much speed he has to get the edge, and what kind of pass rush moves he has. From what I saw in this game he doesn’t seem to have much to offer as a pass rusher, but that can change between his junior and senior seasons, and I didn’t get a lot of good looks at him. But versus the run he sure does have an impact. He will get a lot more attention this year since O’Brien Schofield has graduated and moved on to the NFL, so it will be interesting to see how effective he is this year.

That about does it for Wisconsin and Miami. Hopefully you enjoyed the read and liked what I had to say. Feel free to leave comments! I can’t wait for the football season to get here.

Thanks again!

–Tom Melton