Tag Archive: Prospect Preview


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

James White, RB*- White is the top returning back for the Cyclones in 2012 after rushing for 743 yards and 8 touchdowns last season (4.7 ypc) as well as catching 21 balls for 165 yards and another touchdown. He is a shorter back at 5’8”, but like I always try to point out, packing 180+ pounds on such a small frame isn’t easy to do, and is often a good indication of lower body strength. White tips the scales at a listed weight of 187 pounds, so he isn’t afraid to run between the tackles. I didn’t watch him much last year because he was a sophomore, but he has a shot at 1,000 yards rushing this year despite a lot of returning talent in Iowa State’s backfield. If he can stay healthy, look for a big year from him, but if he doesn’t he could be in for a fight to keep his starting job.

Josh Lenz, WR- Lenz is the top returning receiver in every category for Iowa State. The 6’0”, 194 wideout returns as the receptions leader (39), yardage leader (510), average yardage per reception leader (13.1) and touchdown leader (tied with one other with 2). Obviously those aren’t game-breaking numbers, but he and the rest of Iowa State’s receivers have been dealing with some relatively inept QB play, as both Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett completed under 55% of their passes last season (Jantz 53.3%, Barnett 50% on the dot). Lenz figures to be the go-to guy for Iowa State this season, and even though I don’t think he’s much of a draftable prospect at this point he should have a chance to show what he can do this year. He doesn’t have elite speed, he only has average size but when I saw Iowa State he seemed to have decent hands as well as some shiftiness after the catch. Hopefully the QB play improves a bit so he has a fair shot to impress evaluators.

Jerome Tiller, WR- Tiller was in the mix for the starting quarterback job a year ago at this time but clearly he didn’t win it as Jantz and Barnett threw every pass for Iowa State last season (though they didn’t even throw for 3,000 combined yards despite 479 attempts between them). That was largely due to him being academically ineligible for the 2011 season and that led to his position change. According to Head Coach Paul Rhoads Tiller worked hard in the classroom and straightened himself out in that aspect. He is listed at 6’2”, 204 pounds and if he gets playing time this year he would add some size to a group of receivers that could really use it. I couldn’t see much of the ISU spring game, but from the little I got to see I saw Tiller run a couple solid routes and catch the ball well with his hands, even on a poorly thrown ball. I don’t think he’s going to start, and that’s an extremely limited sample size, but he’s an athlete and combining that with his natural size and solid hands… he could surprise people. Hopefully he gets some targets this year so we can see if I’m right.

Kurt Hammerschmidt, TE- Hammerschmidt has to be one of the best football names I’ve ever heard, but beyond that he has the size that NFL teams are looking for in a tight end. He’s not a joker type that gets split out in the slot every play, he’s an inline kid. He’s listed at 6’6”, 271 pounds and from what I’ve seen he has ability as a blocker. That’s not surprising given his size, but he was barely involved in Iowa State’s passing game last season, totaling only 13 catches for 126 yards and no touchdowns. He’s likely the best red zone threat they have now that Darius Reynolds has graduated, and he’s 3 inches taller than any of the other wide receivers Iowa State has on the team. Being targeted more would certainly help his draft stock, but ultimately that comes down to quarterback play which Iowa State certainly doesn’t have in spades. Hammerschmidt seems like a guy who might end the year with uninspiring numbers, perhaps 30 receptions for 400 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but then impress at an All-Star game such as the East-West Shrine Game when he finally has a quarterback throwing him catchable balls consistently and his blocking is on full display. Keep an eye on him even if his stats aren’t eye-popping. However, not to drag his name through the mud, but I did read that he was suspended indefinitely back in 2009 after being arrested on September 7th for drunk driving. He was 20 years old back then, and I haven’t been able to find any off-field incidents that he has been involved in since, so even though it’s a mistake it would seem that he has learned from it.

Jake McDonough, DT- I’ll be honest, I don’t know a lot about McDonough’s game at this point. The 6’5”, 290 pound defensive tackle started all 13 games last season and produced 35 tackles, 2.5 TFL and 2 sacks during his junior campaign. Speaking of producing, I also found a video that he produced with J Shade for the week leading up to the Oklahoma State game. He reportedly wrote and produced the song with J Shade and even though the video only has 20,000 views it is pretty well done and quite well edited. More importantly, it seemed to get the team and the fans “All In” for the Oklahoma State game since it led to an upset of the Cowboys and derailed their hopes of a National Championship. Maybe McDonough should produce rap videos more often.

AJ Klein, MLB- Klein is one player that every college football fan should be aware of. It’s impossible not to enjoy watching this kid play thanks to his intensity and fearlessness on the field. He’s a great tackler, much like his teammate Jake Knott, and his fantastic instincts and football smarts help compensate for his lack of elite athleticism. Klein is listed at 6’2”, 244 pounds and he is one of the leaders of the defense along with Knott, and produced 116 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 6 pass break-ups and 1 interception last year. He had an interception in the Iowa State Spring Game that he returned for a touchdown (he has a knack for doing that, he already has 3 pick-6’s in his Iowa State career, a school record), and even though he won’t be able to run with a slot receiver down the seam he is a pretty savvy pass defender. I don’t know if he will be a MLB or a WLB in the NFL or not, but I would take Klein on my team any day. He’s going to be a great special teamer from day one, he’s a great tackler which is becoming more and more difficult to find these days, and he plays smart and fast. Sign me up for a linebacker like that every time, even if he doesn’t run a 4.5 flat. Klien and Knott may not be drafted in the first 2 or maybe even 3 rounds depending on how this year goes, but that has a lot to do with lacking elite athleticism and also questionable upside. What I mean by that is this: You know exactly what you’re getting with those two. I think that’s a positive for them, but some will wonder how much better they can get and knock them. The obsession with potential will lead to them being overlooked by some teams, but a couple smart teams will snatch them up and have reliable starters for the next 10 years.

Jake Knott, WLB- Knott emerged as a starter as a sophomore the same year Klein has and they have been wreaking havoc on defenses ever since. Knott is listed at 6’3”, 239 pounds and plays weak-side next to Klein and barely lost out on the lead for tackles last season as he totaled 115, 4 TFL, 3 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and four forced fumbles on the year. Like Klein, Knott is a terrific tackler, plays fast, reads and reacts well and simply doesn’t bite on something that isn’t there or flow away from the play. It’s one of the reasons he and Klein have been such fantastic linebackers for the last two years, they are always around the ball thanks to their football IQ’s and instincts. Much like Klein, I would take a linebacker like Knott on my team any day. He isn’t an elite athlete, but he plays fast, smart and is fundamentally sound versus the run and the pass. I think he and Klein will both be NFL starters sooner rather than later, coaches will love how assignment-sound they are.

Jeremy Reeves, CB- Reeves might be small at only 5’7”, 166 pounds, but he plays bigger than he is listed (though it could hardly be otherwise). Reeves had 70 tackles, 3 TFL, 7 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions as a junior last season and returns for his senior year with 22 starts, easily the most of anyone in the Cyclone secondary. Reeves doesn’t have a great NFL future at that size, but his ball skills and willingness to tackle will give him a shot to be a special teamer and perhaps a dime back. He won’t be able to play much beyond slot corner, but if you’ve got ball skills and are willing to tackle you can get a shot.

Jacques Washington, FS*- Washington is the only junior projected to start in Iowa State’s secondary but he can play. He’s listed at 6’1”, 213 pounds and was the teams 3rd leading tackler (second only to stand-out linebackers Klein and Knott) with 90 tackles, 1 sack, 8 pass deflections and an interception last year. He’s a reliable tackler who likes to hit, but even though he tied for the team lead for pass deflections with Leonard Johnson I would like to see him play with better instincts and awareness in coverage. He likes to hit, and I think sometimes he wants to fill even when he should stay back and make sure he is in position to react in coverage. He’s got ability though, so keep an eye on him.

Kirby Van Der Kamp, P*- I love throwing a punter into one of these prospect previews because no one ever expects to see them. The Big-12 actually has a surprising amount of punter talent, headlined by Tress Way and Quinn Sharp, but Mr. Van Der Kamp (pretty awesome name) was quietly an honorable mention for the All Big-12 team as a punter the past two years. He has been the punter for the past two seasons in Ames and has downed 43 punts inside the 20 in those two seasons which is a pretty respectable number. I haven’t paid attention to him when I’ve seen Iowa State play, but he is supposed to have a pretty strong leg (15 of his 68 punts went 50+ yards) and has only totaled 16 touchbacks in 2 years. He may not have eye-popping stats, but he’s already ISU’s career punting leader with a 43.8 yard average per punt. Keep an eye on him if for no other reason than the fact that he has an awesome name.

Florence has a near impossible task he will try to accomplish- replacing Robert Griffin III. He’s not a great prospect, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do with a surprising number of weapons at his disposal this season.

Nick Florence, QB- Nick Florence has the unenviable job of attempting to replace a living Baylor legend in Robert Griffin III who won Baylor’s first Heisman trophy in the program’s history during his remarkable junior campaign last year. But because RGIII left for the NFL Draft Florence will have a year to show NFL scouts what he can do at the helm of Baylor’s still potent offensive attack. It will look different with Florence at the helm, the 6’1”, 205 pound quarterback isn’t the athletic marvel that Griffin is, but Florence got some playing time as a freshman when RGIII went down with a knee injury so he isn’t completely new to the starting role. The results weren’t exactly pretty; he threw for 1,841 yards, 6 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 7 starts that year. He was efficient in his mop-up duty last year, but the team will have a LOT of offense to replace now that the lethal combination of RGIII and Kendall Wright has left for the NFL. Luckily for Florence they return some talent along the offensive line, Lache Seastrunk will get a chance to show what he can do after sitting out a year due to transfer rules, and he has four or five wide receivers capable of picking up big chunks of yardage to throw to in addition to a 6’6″, 260 pound tight end. I’m not that familiar with Florence’s game yet, but when I saw him as a freshman I wasn’t particularly impressed with his arm strength. A lot can and does change in a player’s growth from his freshman to senior season though, so I’ll withhold judgment until I see him the whole year this year barring injury. However, as of right now I would say Florence is a fringe draftable prospect.

Jarred Salubi, RB- Salubi is entering the season as the projected starter with the talented Seastrunk as his back-up, though I imagine they will both get quite a few touches. Salubi has been productive when given the opportunity to be, but he was stuck behind Terrance Ganaway last year. That is no longer the case as Ganaway has moved on to the NFL, and Salubi has a chance to show was he can do as the feature back. Salubi is a much different back than Ganaway as he is listed at 5’9”, 210 pounds versus Ganaway’s listed 6’0”, 240 pounds. Salubi doesn’t look like he has elite straight line speed to me, he’s probably a 4.5 guy when it comes to that, but according to my notes from the Alamo bowl (where he had 101 yards, 2 touchdowns and nearly a 3rd on only 5 carries) he has plenty of burst, quickness and shiftiness as a runner. Packing 210 pounds onto a 5’9” frame is impressive, and I am certainly intrigued by his skill set. I expect him to get a lot of touches this season, and it will be interesting to see if he can be productive in an offense in which he is not the least of the defense’s concerns. With RGIII and Kendall Wright gone the headliners of the program will be absent, but the offense should still be productive. Salubi will play a big role in replacing all of Ganaway’s rushing production.

Lache Seastrunk, RB**- Seastrunk is a redshirt sophomore thanks to the season he was forced to sit out due to transfer rules. I wish he hadn’t been required to sit out, because seeing Seastrunk’s speed in the backfield with RGIII while Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese were split out wide would have been a sight to behold. Regardless, it is my understanding that Seastrunk is eligible for the draft after this season and even if he was only a true sophomore I would probably have him on this list anyways. He’s a truly dynamic athlete even if he is only 5’9”, 190 pounds. Obviously we haven’t seen him play an actual game in college yet, but his speed is undeniable even if you watch his highlights from high school. He may have true 4.4 flat speed, has very impressive acceleration, burst and change of direction speed as well as the ability to run through sloppy arm tackles and shows impressive balance to keep himself upright despite being a small, speedy running back. He should be lethal if the Bears continue to run a lot of zone read plays like they did with RGIII and Ganaway because Seastrunk has the speed to get the edge even against defenders taking solid angles. What I will want to see from Seastrunk is vision and patience. He has the gamebreaking speed to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball and to rip off a big run every time he gets a carry, but that won’t happen as often in college as it did in high school and keep in mind, that was the last time he played in a game that counted (aka, Spring Games don’t technically count). He’s going to be so amped up for his first game and probably for his entire first season in college that he will probably try to make plays right off the bat. That’s good, but he can’t try to bounce everything outside and turn everything into a sprint down the sideline. He needs to take what the defense gives him sometimes and let his blocks set up in front of him. I think he can do it, it’s just going to be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to the college game this year. My guess? It won’t take very long.

Terrance Williams has 1st round upside, but NFL teams will be looking to see how he handles being the “go-to guy” for Nick Florence this season. Is he up to being a #1 in the NFL? Or is he better as a complementary guy? We will have to see, but I’m hoping that he will clean up his route running and improve his concentration on some routine receptions.

Terrance Williams, WR- Williams is Baylor’s top NFL prospect and for good reason, he is listed at 6’3”, 205 pounds and has legitimate sub 4.5 speed. Last season he did what many assumed Josh Gordon, now a Cleveland Brown, would do for Baylor’s football program: provide vertical speed on the outside as well as the height and leaping ability to win jump balls, not to mention a lot of production. Williams had a career year last year with 59 receptions, 957 yards and 11 touchdowns. I’m not sure he will be able to best those numbers without Kendall Wright opposite him and without RGIII throwing him the ball deep, but he should still be productive despite increased attention from defenses. My problem with Williams previously was his hands. After watching him as a sophomore I had questions about his hands as I saw him drop catchable balls, but when I recently watched him his hands seemed to have improved a bit. I saw him make catches in traffic, catch the ball with his hands a bit, adjust to the ball well on deep balls, and catch the ball well along the sideline with full awareness of where he was on the field. He still drops some catchable balls and has concentration lapses at times, and I will be watching for that during his senior season. He seems to catch the more difficult passes, but let a few of the easy ones get away from him. He also has shown that he is willing to block and block downfield which is good to see, and his long arms are certainly an asset when doing so.

My biggest concern aside from his hands is his route running, which needs considerable work. Frequently when I’ve watched him I have seen him round off breaks and at times just slow down and turn around when running curl routes instead of sinking his hips, chopping his feet and exploding back out of his cut to create separation. Because Baylor spreads defenses out so much with all of their speed and talent on offense this wasn’t often an issue, particularly with RGIII holding zone coverages thanks to his ability to scramble and pick up big chunks of yardage. He doesn’t run crisp routes, and he doesn’t have a well developed route tree at this point and that will add to his learning curve when he heads to the NFL Draft after this season. He’s definitely got 1st round upside and I will certainly be writing a scouting report on him before the season starts, but his route running has to improve if he wants to contribute to a NFL team. He’s got NFL size, athleticism and he has the tools to be a good route runner thanks to his speed and burst, but he just hasn’t needed to run great routes to get open yet. That will change at the NFL level, but if his hands and route running continue to improve it will be hard not to like Williams as a NFL prospect. It will be very telling how he does when faced against quality cover men in the Big-12 (Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma should provide good tests for that) and it will be interesting to see if anyone ever jams him. They likely won’t thanks to the threat of getting beaten deep, but that’s something that I’ve never really seen anyone try against Williams. He isn’t the most physical guy even though he catches the ball well in traffic, and his long arms and quickness should help him beat the jam, but it’s a part of his game that is certainly unproven at this point.

Lanear Sampson, WR- Sampson isn’t the same dynamic prospect that Williams is, but he has a shot to get drafted in his own right. Sampson is listed at 5’11”, 200 pounds (just a few pounds less than Williams despite being 3 inches shorter) and looks like he has legitimate sub 4.5 speed as well. I haven’t seen as much of Sampson since I was always more focused on Kendall Wright and RGIII when I was watching the Bears, but Sampson has quietly been a 4 year starter in Waco and that won’t slip past the scouts who are evaluating him. He may not be an elite athlete, he may not be the biggest or the fastest, but he is consistent and reliable. Baylor’s wide receiver depth chart will be crowded again this year thanks to Williams, Sampson, Reese, Levi Norwood and the addition of senior Daryl Stonum from Michigan, but Sampson still has the inside track to being the #2 receiver on Baylor’s offense this year.

Tevin Reese, WR*- Reese is a bit of an enigma for me. He’s got all the speed you could ever want despite only being 5’10”, 160 pounds and I think he could be a sub 4.4 guy in the 40 yard dash. He’s got very impressive acceleration, burst and obviously is tough to catch once you let him get going. He’s one of the best vertical threats in the Big-12, yet his hands are SO inconsistent and it’s very frustrating. I’ve seen him drop some potential BIG plays, especially down the field, and it’s infuriating. They run a lot of bubble screens to get him the ball on easy receptions to let him use his speed, and run him on reverses to try to get him in space, but the reason they have to do as much of that as they do is because he just can’t be expected to come down with fairly routine deep passes even when he is open. He certainly does make the play sometimes, you don’t produce 51 catches, 877 yards and 7 touchdowns if you can’t catch at all, but if he wants to be taken seriously as a NFL prospect he is going to need to work his ass off to improve his hands. His speed will get him noticed, but teams will roll their eyes if they see him drop some of the passes I’ve seen him drop during his first two seasons in Waco.

Daryl Stonum, WR- I’ll admit, I’m not overly familiar with Stonum despite him spending his career with Michigan until recently. He was never a huge stat guy at Michigan, but not many of their receivers are due to Denard Robinson’s relatively erratic passing. Stonum is listed at 6’1”, 195 pounds and is also listed as having 4.5 speed. Baylor’s depth at receiver is pretty surprising given that they lost their top target in Kendall Wright, but with the addition of Stonum they have five legitimate targets now, assuming Levi Norwood gets more playing time as a sophomore. Stonum has made some mistakes in his past that led to his dismissal at Michigan. In 2008 he was put in jail for violating probation for charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated and driving with a suspended license. In June, 2011 he was sentenced to two years of probation for operating a vehicle while visibly impaired, and violated that probation in January, 2012 when he was found to be driving with a revoked license. That led to 10 days of jail time and his ultimate dismissal from Michigan. It’s tough to argue that his decision making has improved despite this string of incidents, and given the sheer volume of drunk driving incidents the NFL had this summer NFL teams are going to be slow to pull the trigger on a guy like Stonum in the draft, but if he can stay out of trouble for the rest of the year until the draft he will greatly improve his chances of being drafted.

Not many people are familiar with Najvar, but his combination of size, athleticism and soft hands are going to make him very popular in scouting circles once he starts to get more targets. I think he has 1st round upside.

Jordan Najvar, TE*- Najvar is an intriguing prospect that I think could become very popular over the next two years in scouting circles. He’s a huge tight end that is listed at 6’6”, 260 pounds and has a listed sub 4.8 40 yard dash time. He’s an athletic kid and even though he only had 15 receptions, 146 yards and 2 touchdowns last season as a sophomore I think he is ready to break out. To give you some perspective, he is a Stanford transfer, and we all know how unbelievable their tight end depth chart was. He has shown that he is a willing blocker, though I haven’t seen him much as an in-line blocker, but his size and athleticism is going to make him a hot commodity, particularly if Florence figures out that it’s a lot easier to throw to a 6’6”, 260 pound tight end in the middle of the field than it is to try to hit a 5’10” WR. He’s flashed the ability to make nice seal blocks even on defensive ends, and seems to block down effectively. The true test will be seeing how he can do 1 on 1 when he isn’t blocking down. He’s got the size, athleticism, and effort level to be a stud. Keep an eye on him, I LOVE Najvar’s upside.

Cyril Richardson, OG*- Richardson is a large man, listed at 6’5”, 335 pounds. He played 12 games and started 4 of them at left guard as a freshman before moving outside to left tackle as a sophomore to protect RGIII’s blind side. Now he is shifting back inside to guard where he is probably a better fit due to his natural size and power, but lack of ideal lateral agility to stay at tackle. He could be a solid tackle in my opinion, perhaps more if he was played at right tackle, but I think his highest upside is inside at guard due to his size and arm length. He isn’t overly explosive out of his stance, but he has shown the ability to pancake defenders in the run game and generate some push. I’ve seen him make a few mistakes mentally in pass protection, particularly on stunts or strange blitz packages, so that will be something to keep an eye on this season at guard.

Cameron Kaufhold, OG- Kaufhold is Baylor’s “worst” starting interior offensive lineman, but that’s only because Cyril Richardson is a potential 1st or 2nd round pick depending on his development and Ivory Wade was a quality starting right tackle last season and now moves inside to center. The surprising thing is that Kaufhold is the second most experience offensive lineman with 26 career starts, second only to Wade. He is listed at 6’4”, 300 pounds and has shown the ability to generate some push off the ball, to anchor in pass protection and overall appears to be a solid guard. Will he be a top pick? Probably not, but now that he is moving from left guard to right guard his versatility could make him an attractive commodity to talent evaluators. It will be interesting to see how he does at that new spot.

Ivory Wade, C- It will be interesting to see Wade inside at center this season. He was very effective blocking down on defensive tackles last season and showed the ability to consistently shock his defender with his initial punch and drive him off his spot. He’s listed at 6’4”, 310 pounds and he has shown that he can generate push in the run game and also shows the ability to get to the second level and get his hat on a linebacker. He didn’t look that comfortable outside at tackle, but an interior of Wade, Richardson and Kaufhold returns a whopping 73 career starts, and all are listed at 6’4”, 300+ pounds. That interior offensive line should be impressive, and if the two new, young tackles can hold their own this could be an even better offensive line than they had last season. Keep in mind, Baylor has a knack for churning out quality centers. The coaching staff has shown no hesitation to move quality offensive linemen inside to Center and Wade is just the latest to do so. Don’t overlook that.

Terrance Lloyd, DE*- I am not that familiar with Lloyd since I didn’t focus on him much during his sophomore season with Baylor, but at 6’3”, 235 pounds he managed 36 tackles, 4.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks while starting 13 games. He enters the season with 17 career starts, and is a kid I am going to keep an eye on. He needs to add weight and get stronger at the POA, but I’m intrigued to see how he continues to develop from a pass rushing standpoint.

Gary Mason, DE- Mason is a guy I’ve had my eye on for over 2 years now, and it’s a little unbelievable to me that he is now a senior. He’s listed at 6’4”, 275 pounds and has 19 career starts at defensive end. He managed 26 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks and 2 pass break-ups in his 8 starts last season, and while I have had my eye on him for a while he’s never really lived up to the expectations I had for him. He has the size and athleticism, but until he takes that next step and really starts to produce consistently I don’t think he’s much more than a fringe draftable prospect. He has his chance to step up this year though, as his main competition, junior Tevin Elliott, was charged with sexual assault on April 15th and is still suspended indefinitely from what I have been able to find. That means if there was ever a time to step up and make plays, it’s now for Mason.

Tevin Elliott, DE*- Until the charges are cleared up, Elliott likely doesn’t have a football future, but if he ever does play a down of football for Baylor again he certainly has a NFL skill set. He’s listed at 6’3”, 250 pounds and has a lot of speed and burst off the ball to beat offensive tackles off the edge. He’s never really put it all together, much like Mason, and even though he had 27 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 1 pass deflection and an interception last year, none of it matters if he is guilty of sexual assault. I can’t speculate at all as to whether he is guilty or innocent obviously, but if he does play for Baylor again he has the potential to be an impact player. Now we have to let the legal system play out.

Ahmad Dixon, LB/S*- Dixon is a difficult player to project because he is safety sized but loves to play in the box like a linebacker. He’s listed at 6’0”, 205 pounds, so he is undersized for the linebacker position, but Baylor likes to keep him on the field as a nickel corner to keep him closer to the action and allow him to make plays near or behind the line of scrimmage. He’s a playmaker and is one of the best players on Baylor’s defense, and managed 89 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 pass break-ups and an interception last year. His 5.5 TFL were tied for the most on the team with Gary Mason, and while I haven’t watched Dixon much I am very interested to see if he is a good tackler. Baylor had a TON of problems tackling against Washington in the bowl game, and their secondary in particular had a lot of issues. I’m interested to see more of Dixon to see if he is part of the tackling problem or not.

Joe Williams, CB*- Williams is an undersized corner, listed at 5’9”, 185 pounds, but he was very productive as a sophomore. Because he was a younger kid I didn’t pay much attention to him last season, but he had 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 12 pass deflections and an interception in 9 starts. I haven’t been able to see much of him, but if he continues to demonstrate quality ball skills he will give himself a shot to get drafted in spite of his size. Keep an eye on him this year.

KJ Morton, CB*- Morton is another junior corner opposite Williams, and like Williams he had a productive sophomore year as well. He had 75 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 6 pass deflections and 4 interceptions on the season. It would be HUGE for Baylor if Morton and Williams were able to step their game up to help stop some of the big plays that they gave up last season, because RGIII isn’t on the other side of the ball anymore to mask some of the defense’s issues. Morton and Williams will be under plenty of pressure in the pass-happy Big-12, but it will be interesting to see how they stack up. If Baylor’s defense is going to be any better, the secondary will have to step up, though the safety play was arguably more of a problem than the play of the corners.

Doege is fighting an uphill battle to get drafted, but he has a shot if he can show some progression during his second season as a starter.

Seth Doege, QB- Doege is the next in a long line of extremely productive Texas Tech quarterbacks who managed to produce on the college level despite less than ideal measurables or arm strength. Doege is listed at 6’1”, 205 pounds and may only be 6’0” tall in reality. He doesn’t have elite arm strength, but he might have enough to play at the next level. His statistics are obviously inflated due to the offense he runs (he passed for 4,004 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 68.5% of his passes, but threw the ball 581 times and completed 398 passes to do so). His yards per attempt was a relatively pedestrian 6.89 and that is largely due to the large number of quick passes the Red Raiders use. They run a lot of bubble and tunnel screens and the offense is predicated on getting the ball out of Doege’s hands quickly and accurately, which has enabled quarterbacks with relatively weak but accurate arms to put up gaudy numbers in this system that dwarfs the production of quarterbacks at other schools, even those with superior natural ability. This is the type of offense that turned me off from the spread because it covers up so many of the quarterback’s flaws. It’s a very smart coaching move that allows the staff to pluck smart, accurate passers up in their recruiting classes, some of which wouldn’t get offers from power schools in the same region, and develop them into 4,000+ yard passers. However, it makes it difficult to evaluate prospects in the system because it doesn’t translate well to the NFL (though some of the concepts translate more than they did a few years ago, particularly the love affair with spreading the defense out and throwing high percentage passes such as quick screens). The quarterback’s deficiencies are masked by the quick passing that doesn’t force him to make many NFL throws, go through difficult progressions and it makes it difficult to evaluate how the quarterback executes when throwing in a muddied pocket or with pressure bearing down on him. Running backs are often only getting carries out of the shotgun, offensive linemen don’t have to pass protect as long because of the sheer multitude of quick passes, and wide receivers rack up tons of yardage thanks to the quick-hitting offense that spreads out the defense.

I’m sure I’m coming off like an asshole right now, but this offense really does complicate things for talent evaluators and it’s one reason that quarterbacks that play in this specific kind of spread offense get drafted later than most think if they get drafted at all. I can’t tell you how many Houston fans were mad at me for saying Case Keenum wouldn’t get drafted two years ago, but when he got his chance, did he? Doege is fighting an uphill battle playing in this offense, and if he wants to get drafted he will have to show the arm strength to make NFL throws, particularly throws outside the hashes. He will need to show the ability to go through his progressions and not lock on to one receiver or one half of the field, and he will need to show that he knows how to manipulate the pocket, throw under duress and do so accurately and efficiently. That’s a lot to ask of him, but quarterback is the most demanding position in sports for a reason. But that’s just the issue with projecting quarterbacks from this offense into the NFL- they are often protected so much by the brilliance of this offensive scheme that by the end of their college career they aren’t prepared for the transition to the pros. Whether it is spending almost their entire college career in shotgun, making simple reads or throwing a multitude of short, high percentage passes and benefiting from yardage gained after the catch, these quarterbacks tend to struggle when forced to transition. Even Graham Harrell, one of the success stories of this Texas Tech program for making it to the NFL and competing to be Aaron Rodgers’ back-up in Green Bay, had to go to the CFL before he got his chance to really stick on a NFL roster. I’m not saying Doege will have to do the same thing, but I’m also not ready to say he will stick yet either. I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer in his second full season as a starter this year.

Ward is only a junior this year but he really emerged as a sophomore last year. As Doege’s go-to guy he should be in line for an even bigger year this season.

Eric Ward, WR*- Now that I got that spread offense rant out of the way, I can continue on down the list of prospects that Texas Tech has to offer. The top returning wide receiver is Eric Ward, who is listed at 6’0”, 203 pounds. He totaled 84 receptions, 800 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore this year and as Doege’s go-to guy he has a very realistic chance at 100 catches, 1,000 yards and 10+ touchdowns this season in my opinion. Ward isn’t going to run a 4.4 flat in my estimation, but he has enough speed and burst to be a NFL receiver and proved that his hands were reliable last season. When I’ve seen him I’ve seen him catch with his hands, and that is critical for any receiver attempting to get to the next level. I’m excited to see what Ward can do this season, because I still don’t have a great feel for his route running and his ability to create yardage after the catch.

Darrin Moore, WR- Moore is the big, physical target that projects as a nice red-zone target at the next level. He is listed at 6’4”, 220 pounds and caught 47 passes for 571 yards and 8 touchdowns as a junior last year. I haven’t seen much of him at all, but if he is really 6’4” he may have the potential for a transition to tight end if he doesn’t stick as a receiver, though I’m sure he has very little experience as a blocker. Still, his size and red zone potential intrigued me enough to keep an eye on him this year.

LaAdrian Waddle, OT- Waddle is the only Texas Tech offensive lineman I was impressed with when I watched them, and he sticks out at 6’6”, 318 pounds. He’s got the measurables that evaluators will like, but as I mentioned earlier he is protected in this scheme by all of the quick passing. I’m not convinced that he can stick at left tackle in the NFL and I have yet to evaluate him much as a run blocker, but if he can generate any movement off the ball in that area he could be a solid fit at right tackle in the NFL.

Dartwan Bush, DE*- Bush is an undersized pass rusher listed at 6’1”, 255 pounds and managed 28 tackles, 3 TFL and 2 sacks in 7 starts as a sophomore. He was impressive in the spring game based on what I was able to read about it and he recorded 2 sacks in that game alone. Bush is likely to be the Red Raiders best pass rusher this season and while I haven’t evaluated him much because he was only a sophomore last season I am interested to see if he can provide a pass rush off the edge that Texas Tech could really use on defense.

Terrance Bullitt, OLB*- Bullitt is a former safety who transitioned to the linebacker spot in Texas Tech’s new 4-3 defense this year. He started all 12 games at safety last year and managed 56 tackles, 9.5 TFL and 4 pass break-ups. Now he will be a strong side linebacker in their 4-3 defense, and at 6’3”, 215 pounds he has the frame to add weight and potentially hold up there. He’s got a nose for the ball-carrier and I am excited to see how he transitions to this new linebacker position full time, since he played in the box quite a bit as a safety last season.

Cody Davis, FS- I didn’t know much about Davis but the 6’2”, 203 pound safety was the Red Raiders’ leading tackler last season with 93 tackles, 3 TFL and 5 pass break-ups. He has moved back to more traditional safety position after spending a lot of time in the box in the 4-2-5 defense Texas Tech employed previously. Davis is a reliable tackler, though I don’t know much about his coverage abilities. From what I’ve seen of him, he looks like a primarily in the box type of safety, and is likely a fringe draftable prospect who should get a shot to contribute as a special teamer if nothing else.

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 Kansas State. I actually like Kansas State as a dark-horse to win the Big-12 this year (my favorite is West Virginia) but I think Kansas State is still flying under the radar. They return a lot of talent on offense, particularly at wide receiver where they are fairly deep. With Collin Klein and John Hubert in the backfield they should continue to run the ball effectively, and if Klein can continue to progress and open up as a passer the Wildcat’s offense should be dangerous. Klein accounted for 40 touchdowns last season (13 passing, 27 rushing) and while it will be difficult to match that lofty total again, I think he is in line for an increase in passing efficiency and production. He isn’t a prototypical quarterback, but he is a fearless leader and he improves the play of those around him much like Tim Tebow did at Florida. That is an incredibly rare and valuable trait for a quarterback to have, and Klein has it in spades. With Chris Harper, Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson all returning at receiver Klein will certainly have players to throw to whether he wants to move the chains, threaten defenses horizontally or if he wants to stretch the field vertically. It will be interesting to see if or how he progresses as a passer this year. One important note about Kansas State’s offense is that Manase Foketi **DOUBLE CHECK THIS** was attempting to transfer out of the program after the completion of his junior season but as far as I know Kansas State has continued to block his request to transfer. I don’t have an update at this time, but Foketi is Klein’s blind-side protector and losing him would be a significant blow to their offense.

On defense, Kansas State was surprisingly good last year and they return a number of important starters. They have a couple of intriguing pass rushers at defensive end in Adam Davis and Meshak Williams, a stud middle linebacker in Arthur Brown, and a couple impressive defensive backs in Nigel Malone and Ty Zimmerman. Those core players should keep Kansas State’s defense competent, and if other guys can step up I think Kansas State’s defense will surprise. They return a number of key starters across their entire team, but having a pair of pass rushers like Davis and Williams will only help the secondary headlined by Malone and Zimmerman who are both instinctual defenders with quality ball skills. Kansas State may not have a player who will end up being drafted in the 1st round come April, but they have a well stocked team full of reliable players who may not be as flashy or freakish as some of the talent stocked by other programs, but they are effective and worthy of serious draft consideration. With that, here are the prospects to look out for on Kansas State:

Collin Klein may not be a typical quarterback, but I think he is going to get a chance to play QB in the NFL. Tebow did, why shouldn’t Klein?

Collin Klein, QB- Ah, Collin Klein, the Big-12’s Tim Tebow. The comparison isn’t perfect, but they sure do have their similarities. They have NFL size (Klein is listed at 6’5”, 226 pounds), strong arms, a hitch in their throwing motions, the ability to bowl over defenders when gaining yardage with their legs, inconsistent accuracy and fantastic toughness and leadership capability. Klein may not be at the top of many team’s quarterback wish lists, and he likely won’t be drafted in the 1st round like Tim Tebow was, but I think he will get a shot to play QB in the NFL. He needs some mechanical work on his throwing motion, but he actually flashed the ability to go through progressions and scan the field a bit despite being relied upon to run the ball so much. Klein is the type of guy that many will find fault with, and many draftniks will probably grade him pretty low, but he will likely impress teams in interviews due to his reported football IQ and obvious leadership capability as well as his willingness to take a beating and play hurt. I don’t know if he will ever be a starting QB in the NFL, but if Tebow has managed to do it, hell, maybe Klein can do it too. I expect to see Klein at the East-West Shrine Game, or perhaps more likely, the Senior Bowl and I look forward to seeing him up close and speaking with him.

John Hubert, RB*- Hubert’s production suffered more than anyone else’s thanks to Klein’s ability to gain tough yards in short yardage situations which led to his 27 rushing touchdowns last season. Hubert is a quality back though despite his somewhat diminutive listed size of 5’7”, 185 pounds. Packing that much weight onto that small of a frame isn’t as easy as you might think, and I think he is eager to prove he is more than just a scat-back. He produced 970 yards on 200 carries last season (4.8 ypc average) as well as 3 touchdowns. He also demonstrated that he can catch passes out of the backfield by tallying 24 receptions for 188 yards and 1 more touchdown. Hubert is only a junior and I would be surprised if he declared early, so as a senior he should have a chance to show what he can do as the main feature of Kansas State’s running game. As a junior, though, he will likely remain in Klein’s considerable shadow.

Tyler Lockett, WR**- Lockett is a gamebreaker and even though he is only a true sophomore I had to include him in this list. Unfortunately he suffered a lacerated kidney against Oklahoma State and missed the final four games, but he said he is feeling “fantastic” and he was able to participate in spring practices before being held out because of a hamstring injury. Here’s hoping he gets over the injury bug for the rest of his career, but at 5’11”, 170 pounds he will likely continue to get nicked up. However, despite missing the final four games last year Lockett managed to catch 18 passes for 246 yards and 3 touchdowns, carry the ball 10 times for 110 yards (11.0 ypc) and return 16 kickoffs for 563 yards (35.2 average per return) including 2 for touchdowns. And that was all in just nine games! He looks like he has legitimate sub 4.45 speed to me and will likely be Kansas State’s primary deep threat on offense as well as their most dynamic kickoff return man this year. So while he may not be eligible for the draft this year, there is no way I could have left a playmaker as dynamic as Lockett off of this list.

Harper is flying a little under the radar thanks to Kansas State’s less than flashy passing game, but he is Klein’s go-to guy and projects to the NFL as a reliable possession type receiver.

Chris Harper, WR- Harper is widely considered Kansas State’s top wide receiver, and that was reflected in his statistics last season. He had 40 receptions (#2 WR had 21), 547 yards (#2 WR had 338) and 5 touchdowns (Lockett was #2 with 3, 5 were tied for #3 with 1 TD reception each). By catching 40 passes that meant that Harper caught almost 25% of Klein’s completions (40 of 161), accounted for 28.52% of the yards that Klein threw for (547 of 1,918) and accounted for 38.5% of the touchdowns that Klein threw (5 of 13). It may seem like I’m trying to skew the numbers to make Harper’s look more impressive, but the fact of the matter is Klein ran the ball 36 more times than he threw the ball last year and only threw for 470 more yards than he ran, yet had 14 more touchdowns rushing than he did passing. There just weren’t a ton of passes to go around, and it didn’t help that Klein only completed 57.3% of the 281 passes he attempted. Regardless, the 6’1”, 225 pound Harper figures to be the go-to guy for Klein again this season, and I think he has a shot at 50-60 receptions for 800 yards and 8 touchdowns if Klein continues to target him and if his accuracy improves at all. I don’t think Harper is going to be a top WR prospect even in a relatively weak WR class, but he has reliable hands to catch the ball outside his frame and while he isn’t a burner I think as he continues to improve his route running he will project pretty nicely as a possession receiver at the next level. Will he be a star? Probably not, but I think he will be a reliable WR who will be a pleasant surprise for whoever drafts him.

Tramaine Thompson, WR*- Tramaine Thompson is listed as a probable starter, but I think he will likely be Klein’s #3 option this season behind Harper and Lockett. Thompson was the 2nd on the team in receptions (21) and yardage (338) but that is largely due to the fact that Lockett missed the final 4 games and only finished with 3 fewer receptions and 88 fewer yards while scoring two more touchdowns. Thompson led the team in average per reception and certainly has the speed to threaten teams vertically, but at 5’7” 165 he is an even smaller target than Lockett and I’m not sure how reliable his hands are at this point. Kansas State is undeniably a run-first team so even though Kansas State has three legitimate pass catchers at receiver don’t expect Bill Snyder to demand that Kleinn throws for at least 3,000 yards. That means fewer targets for all of the receivers, and that includes Thompson.

Adam Davis, DE- Adam Davis teamed up with Meshak Williams to form a surprisingly formidable pass rushing duo last year, combining for 11 sacks (Davis had 4) and additional tackles for loss (Davis also had 4). There were a lot of questions surrounding Davis’ health at this time last year because of a severe back injury he suffered. Davis had a slipped disk and a pinched nerve in his back and after surgery he said he “couldn’t bend over because if I turned the wrong way it hit my nerve and sent pain down to my legs.” He worked hard and rehabbed from the injury and was still limited on August 18th when that interview was published, but despite all of that the 6’0”, 255 pound defensive end produced 34 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 2 pass break-ups while starting all 13 games for the Wildcats. Now a senior and a year removed from the injury everything appears to be fine but that is something that NFL teams will certainly want to check out when they scout him after this upcoming season. Davis has quality burst off of the ball, flashed some impressive hand usage to keep linemen from locking him up and can blow by slow-footed offensive linemen if he can keep their hands off of him. He’s obviously very undersized and may need to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but Davis is one man I would not bet against. He worked very hard to come back from that back injury and he is all effort and hustle. He’s a player and I think he has a shot to double his production from his junior season, his first game action with the Wildcats after transferring from junior college. Don’t sleep on him because of his height!

Meshak Williams, DE- Williams is the defensive end with superior height at 6’3” but actually weighs less than his defensive end counterpart Adam Davis, tipping the scales at only 245 pounds. Williams has burst off the ball as well and he converted that into 28 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and a team-leading 7 sacks last season. He too was a junior college transfer and thanks to his height he will be considered more favorably as a possible 4-3 defensive end. Both Williams and Davis have things to improve as pass rushers, but they have the burst to intrigue evaluators as pass rushers and together the tandem has a legitimate chance to combine for 15-20 sacks next year. They should be fun to watch if they remain healthy.

Arthur Brown is one of the top senior linebacker prospects in the country and reminds me quite a bit of former Nebraska standout Lavonte David.

Arthur Brown, MLB- Brown is arguably the top NFL prospect on Kansas State. He will draw a lot of favorable comparisons to former Nebraska and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker Lavonte David thanks to their relative lack of size, impressive instincts, tackling and coverage skills. Because he is listed at 6’1”, 225 many will knock him for lacking size much like they did with David, but if he repeats his junior season (his first game action with Kansas State after transferring from Miami and sitting out in 2010) production with 101 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 pass break-ups and an interception then he could very well go in the 2nd round like Lavonte David did. Brown has the athleticism, instincts and quality fundamentals to be a quality weakside linebacker in the NFL and he is one of the top senior 4-3 linebackers in the nation.

Justin Tuggle, OLB- I saw the name Tuggle and just had to do some research to see if he was related to Jessie Tuggle and, in fact, he is. Justin is Jessie’s son and believe it or not he wasn’t a linebacker from birth. He was a quarterback (and a pretty good one) in high school and set school records in passing yards and passing touchdowns there. He started 3 games for Boston College at quarterback, throwing for 229 yards and 4 touchdowns. He left for Community College in 2010 before transferring to Kansas State for his junior season. He didn’t contribute much, only playing in 4 games on special teams and totaling one tackle against Texas A&M, but if for no other reason than because he is Jessie’s son he is someone to keep an eye on. He is listed at 6’3”, 227 pounds and apparently has transitioned very naturally to the outside linebacker position (should that surprise anyone? It flows in his blood) and is in an intense competition for the only vacant starting linebacker spot. I don’t know if he has won it for sure or not, but it sounded like he pulled ahead after the spring game where he was able to tally 4 tackles including one for loss. Arthur Brown had this to say about Tuggle’s performance: “He’s doing a great job,” Brown said. “When he’s out there running after the ball, you can tell he’s a great athlete. He definitely transferred all his offensive skills to defense. I think he has a lot more potential.” I, for one, am excited to see if Tuggle holds onto the job and if he is able to capitalize on his potential and his quality linebacking pedigree. The NFL could use another Tuggle.

Nigel Malone, CB- Malone really catches your attention when you watch him and when you look at his stat line. He may be listed at only 5’10”, 176 pounds but he isn’t afraid to come up to support the run (as evidenced by his 58 tackles) and he has some of the best ball skills of any defensive back in the conference, tallying 10 pass break-ups as well as 7 interceptions in his first season with the Wildcats. Malone isn’t a technician at cornerback quite yet, but he has pretty impressive instincts and clearly has a nose for the ball. He won’t blow people away with his measurables in my opinion, but once you watch him play you have to be impressed with how well he plays the ball. I’m very interested to see how he does now that he has a year of starting experience under his belt, and I think he is a legitimate top 100 pick coming into the season. If he’s coachable and if he works hard he can improve his technique and maybe add a little weight to his frame, but I don’t think you can teach ball skills, especially not one’s that enable you to tally 17 passes defended (including 7 interceptions) in your first season as a starter in a major football conference. Keep an eye on Malone, he’s a playmaker.

Allen Chapman, CB- Champan is the “other” senior corner returning as a starter for Kansas State. He is listed at 5’11”, 180 pounds and was another junior college transfer who had his first game action as a Wildcat last year as a junior. He started 7 games, played in all 13 and had 50 tackles, 4 pass deflections and 1 interception. He was solid, but was obviously overshadowed by Malone’s dynamic performance opposite him. I don’t know how good Champan’s prospects are, but with Malone opposite him it’s only a matter of time before teams get tired of him deflecting passes and at times intercepting them, so he will get tested this year. It will be interesting to see how he holds up.

Ty Zimmerman, SS*- Zimmerman is one of my favorite prospects on Kansas State and he really impressed me in coverage against a very good passing offense in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. He deflected two passes intended for their big tight end Chris Gragg thanks to his impressive instincts, athleticism and ball skills. A player with his football IQ, awareness, instincts and ability to make plays on the ball will be very popular once he is ready to leave for the NFL. He is entering his junior season this year and while I don’t expect him to leave he certainly will have the option to. He currently has 25 career starts and assuming Kansas State manages to make a bowl game, he could leave after this season with as many as 38 career starts if he stays healthy. That’s pretty amazing, and starting experience and awareness is something that talent evaluators love to see in safeties. They are the quarterbacks of the secondary and football IQ is very important for them, and Zimmerman has that in abundance in my opinion. Keep an eye on him, he may not have gaudy statistics (he only has 5 career interceptions coming into the season) but he is without a doubt a NFL safety.