Tag Archive: Quarterback


Brandon Allen, QB, Sophomore- Allen is obviously young and inexperienced, but I think he has a lot of upside. He may not have quite as strong an arm as Brandon Mitchell (the man he beat out for the starting quarterback job) but he definitely has adequate velocity based on what I’ve seen. I think he can add even more velocity if he starts using his lower body better, as he is making a lot of “all arm” throws right now in my opinion. However, he showed pretty good accuracy, he is athletic and can throw on the run, and supposedly has been emerging as a leader since he was named the starter. He’s listed at 6’3”, 214 pounds and only threw 49 passes last year (completing 21) for 186 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. Part of that is because he was the next guy in line after Tyler Wilson went down and had to start against Alabama as a freshman. He’s going to take his lumps as a brand new starter in the SEC this year, but I definitely think he has some long term upside.

Jonathan Williams, RB, Sophomore- I like what I saw from Williams in the spring game. He’s got some big shoes to fill since Knile Davis went so high in the draft (higher than I would have drafted him, to be sure) and I was one of the biggest Dennis Johnson fans last year (if not the biggest). However, the 6’0”, 220 pound running back showed impressive burst and athleticism for his size, he ran hard and gained some tough yards after contact. He’s powerfully built but he has enough athleticism to gain chunks of yardage and isn’t purely a power back. Not only that, but he showed some ability to make catches out of the backfield. He’s also surprisingly shifty for such a big running back which I really liked to see. I think he’s going to have a big year if Arkansas can give him the requisite blocking up front.

Nate Holmes, RB, Sophomore- Holmes is a speed demon, simple as that. He’s listed at 6’1”, 176 pounds but he has a lot of speed and is the fastest back that Arkansas has. He doubles as a punt returner and I really think that he has a chance to be a gamebreaker in that phase of the game. He’s not going to get a lot of carries I don’t think, but he could be worked in as a change of pace guy. He was held out of the first half of the spring game because of academic issues, so if he can stay eligible I think he can be a very valuable weapon for Arkansas.

Demetrius Wilson, WR, Senior- Wilson impressed me while I was watching the spring game. I don’t know how many receptions he ended up with, but he showed reliable hands and was able to make a couple of tacklers miss (particularly on curl routes) and gain extra yardage after the catch. He doesn’t look like a dynamic receiver necessarily, but I think he is going to easily surpass his 9 reception, 117 yard, 1 touchdown stat line from a year ago. He’s listed at 6’1”, 202 pounds and likely isn’t even on NFL draft radars as a possible undrafted free agent (he played some special teams for the Razorbacks last year for what it’s worth) so I am hoping he has a good year as a senior.

Javontee Herndon, WR, Senior- Herndon is one of the main guys returning for Arkansas at receiver, though that isn’t saying a whole lot. He is tied with Mekale McKay for the most receptions returning to Arkansas with 21, and is second to McKay in yards with 304 last year. He also added 3 touchdowns, the most of any receiver returning to Arkansas. The offense last year was essentially just throw the ball to Cobi Hamilton, and it showed as he totaled 90 receptions, 1,335 yards and 5 touchdowns, or 69 more receptions, 1,018 more yards and 2 more touchdowns than ANY receiver returning for 2013. That is a staggering differential, and I’m not sure Herndon or anyone on the roster is going to be able to be that “go to” guy that Hamilton was last year. Still, Herndon showed reliable hands, wiggle after the catch and seemed to be a solid route runner. He’s listed at 6’1”, 194 and he doesn’t exactly look like a burner, but he should be a reliable slot receiver for Arkansas as a senior. He’s likely in the undrafted free agent boat as well, but that can all change if he can finish his career on a strong note.

Mekale McKay, WR, Sophomore- McKay is the guy I think might have the chance to replace Hamilton’s vast production at some point. It may not be this year, but I think he’s got the most upside of any of the receivers I’m previewing. He’s listed at 6’6”, 195 pounds and definitely looks skinny when you watch him. He produced 21 receptions, 317 yards and 2 touchdowns as a freshman and is going to be relied upon as a significant contributor as a sophomore. He and Herndon are the two most productive receivers returning for Arkansas this year, so it will be interesting to see if his route running has improved since the spring game. He showed good hands and obviously has a large target radius, but he really needs to fill out his frame too. He still demonstrated to me that he can make a catch and take a hit, and while he isn’t a burner he has long strides so he can cover more ground than you might think. He’s got upside, so we’ll see what he can do as a sophomore.

Keon Hatcher, WR, Sophomore- Hatcher is a back-up on this team right now but he impressed me in the spring game. He’s likely not going to get much playing time this year, but he’s listed at 6’2”, 208 pounds, looked like a natural hands catcher and showed some wiggle after the catch. I think he’s going to be a significant contributor in the future, but may not be this year.

Travis Swanson, C, Senior- Swanson is the best prospect that the Razorbacks return on their offense, and he is considered by many as the top Center in the 2014 NFL Draft class. Initially when I watched him I was pretty underwhelmed, and he really seemed to struggle against Texas A&M’s Kirby Ennis, a 6’4”, 300 pound nose guard. He struggled to create push in the run game when blocking defensive linemen 1 on 1 in all the games that I watched which is contrary to what you might think given his listed size of 6’5”, 314 pounds. Still, he had a bad game against Texas A&M and that happens to everyone, it’s why you need to watch more than one game whenever possible. Swanson bounced back strong against Auburn and showed more mobility than I saw versus Texas A&M (almost to the point that I wondered if Swanson was playing through an injury that week) and looked more comfortable combo blocking and reaching linebackers at the second level. That was very encouraging to see, and it was also good to see him flash some ability to pull and make cut blocks. I think he needs work in this area, but there’s ability to work with there. He can generate push when double teaming with one of his guards, but he’s at his best when he can combo block, reach the second level, or seal off a defender without trying to push him off the ball. When he tries to generate push he tends to lean too much and it made him easy to shed for guys like Kirby Ennis of A&M and Isaac Gross of Ole Miss. There were times that Swanson really seemed to struggle with speed and quickness in the run game, and that was particularly evident against Ole Miss when Isaac Gross regularly beat him despite being listed as a 6’1”, 255 pound true freshman defensive tackle. He was much quicker than Swanson and that made it tough for him to initiate contact and keep him out of the backfield. However, despite some of his struggles in the run game I was quite impressed with him in the pass game. It’s evident that he is very smart and he makes very few mental mistakes based on what I was able to see. He isn’t easily fooled by twists, stunts, or late blitzes and seems comfortable making line calls and adjusting blocking schemes. That is good news, because he’s going to have to hold Brandon Allen’s hand a little bit in that regard since he has so little experience starting at quarterback in the SEC. He’s also regarded as a very good leader and that is very encouraging. I thought he showed a pretty solid anchor in pass protection, but I still think he can get stronger and improve it at this point in his career. He’s pretty tough to bull rush though, and a number of the issues I saw with him in the run game weren’t present in the pass game. He’s going to be a good pass protector in the NFL and I think he might be able to plug and play at the center position thanks to that skill set. He has experience snapping under center, in shotgun and the pistol thanks to Arkansas’ offense, and as I mentioned previously he has a lot of experience making line calls. I still want to see him continue to work on his hand placement, particularly in the run game, and there are times in pass pro where he tends to shuffle back in a strange way. He almost seems to be on his heels trying to gain depth after the snap, and it looks like if he was engaged he would really struggle to anchor and recover. He’s shown an ability to do that when I’ve watched him, but that shuffle looked strange to me. Regardless, he still needs work in the running game and I’m not sure he’s ever going to be the mauling run blocker you might expect given his size and weight, but he’s a good pass blocker with a high football IQ who I think has a long NFL career in front of him. At this point I have a 3rd round grade on him, so it will be interesting to see if he can boost his stock beyond that point during his senior season.

Chris Smith, DE, Senior- Smith is a defensive end that is listed at 6’3”, 266 pounds but I’d be surprised if he was really that tall and that heavy when officially measured and weighed, but that’s just my opinion of how he looks when I’m re-watching his games. He has a very impressive first step and that helps put offensive tackles on their heels immediately, and he does a good job working back inside if he gets them off balance. He flashes a solid bull rush, but after that his pass rush repertoire is fairly limited. He needs to learn to use his hands better and I worry about how long his arms are. There were a number of times that he was engulfed by larger, long armed offensive tackles. He needs to learn to slap their hands away and avoid getting locked up with them, but he also needs to learn to shed those blocks better with counter moves after he is inevitably engaged on some plays. He got washed out at times versus the run, particularly against those massive offensive tackles, but he’s no slouch in the run game either. He seems to have a good motor as well and that matches up nicely with his 52 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL and 4 pass break-ups from a year ago. He’s not great at getting his hands into passing lanes, but he at least flashes the ability to do it. I like him as a defensive end prospect and he’s a very solid 3rd rounder in my mind right now. That could obviously change with another strong season this year.

Trey Flowers, DE, Junior- I was relatively familiar with Smith having watched him the past couple seasons, but Flowers was a player I was completely unfamiliar with. I knew he was productive last year, but I hadn’t really watched him play. When I finally did I was blown away. I like Smith, but I love Flowers. He is a former linebacker who is listed at 6’4”, 256 pounds and he honestly reminds me of Barkevious Mingo when I watch him play. I don’t think he is that level of a freakish athlete, but he has a long, lanky frame that he can definitely stand to add weight to, he plays the run much better than you would expect given his frame and athleticism, and he’s a hell of a pass rushing prospect. He’s still learning the position, and he doesn’t have Smith’s elite get-off, but there is 1st round upside here in my opinion. Last year as a sophomore he notched 50 tackles, 6 sacks, 7 TFL, and 3 pass deflections. He packs a punch as a hitter, he’s got an impressive motor and he has been very disruptive and active in all of the games I’ve watched (albeit less disruptive against Texas A&M because he and Smith were playing contain the whole game). He sets the edge well, seems to understand how to control blockers with his long arms and then shed to make the tackle, and I’ve watched him beat an offensive lineman, then a running back, and then end up with a sack despite all of that. He’s a very impressive player and he and Smith are going to be a helluva pass rushing duo for Arkansas this year, and boy will they need it.

Deatrich Wise, DE, Sophomore- Wise is only a sophomore but he impressed me when I was watching Arkansas’ spring game. He is the back-up to Trey Flowers at defensive end but he definitely flashed some impressive athleticism when he got playing time. He is listed at 6’6”, 265 pounds and has very long arms. He just engulfs ball carriers when he wraps them up. Wise also has some burst and he flashed some bend as well. He’s still learning how to use his hands and obviously needs development, but he definitely intrigued me and he could be next in the line of promising pass rushers on Arkansas’ roster. Never thought I’d say those words a couple years ago!

Bryan Jones, DT, Senior- Jones looks like a solid defensive tackle prospect to me. I think he’s probably a day 3 guy right now, but he has more pass rushing upside than I previously believed when I started watching him. Initially I thought he was purely a run defender and wouldn’t add much to the pass rush at all, but over the next two games I saw more burst off the ball and a little more explosion than I anticipated which was encouraging to see. He’s listed at 6’2”, 310 pounds and produced 52 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 3.5 TFL as a junior. He’s not on the same level as a prospect as Chris Smith or Trey Flowers in my opinion, but with a strong season I think he could boost his stock. He isn’t elite at the point of attack, but he is definitely reliable there and doesn’t get pushed around too easily versus the run. He’s not going to be a dynamic pass rusher, but he has flashed the ability to collapse the pocket with a bull rush and has flashed a pretty good swim move to beat a 1 on 1 block or split a double team. I’m looking forward to see if he takes any steps forward as a senior.

Robert Thomas, DT, Senior- Thomas didn’t get a ton of playing time as a junior but I think he’s going to surprise some people as a senior. He is projected to be a starter now and the 6’3”, 318 pound defensive tackle has some promise in my opinion. He only had 18 tackles last season, but he still managed 2.5 sacks and 2.5 TFL despite starting only 2 games (though he registered one of those sacks against Louisiana Monroe and had his 2.5 TFL versus the run against Jacksonville State and Louisiana Monroe). Still, he showed me something and he isn’t easy to push off the ball either, though he has struggled at times versus double teams. I think he has more burst and explosion off the ball than Jones does and he seems to be more violent and play with more purpose than Jones does at times. He seems feisty to me and I think he has a good motor, while there are times I think Jones is going through the motions a little bit. We’ll see if he keeps that motor running full time now that he’s a starter, but I think he’s got a chance to boost his stock and get drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent.

Tevin Mitchel, CB, Junior- I really wish I had more notes on Mitchel because he’s an intriguing player but unfortunately between the camera angles and the teams Arkansas was playing in the games that I watched he wasn’t tested a whole lot. Mitchel is the boundary corner on Arkansas’ defense (or at least it seemed that way when I was watching them) meaning if the ball is on the left hash he will defend the outside receiver that lines up on the near sideline. The field corner (Will Hines) defends the outside receiver closest to the far sideline. The boundary corner is considered the more difficult position because you have less time to react before the ball gets there, which is why the more experienced Mitchel played there last season. He produced 34 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 4 pass deflections and 1 interception on the season. He’s listed at 6’0”, 181 pounds and he definitely has a lot of upside, but I need to see more of him before I will be able to evaluate him fairly. He spends a lot of time dropping into zone coverage, particularly Cover-3 according to my notes, so I’d like to see him a lot more in man coverage.

Will Hines, CB, Sophomore- I didn’t get to see as much of Hines as I would have liked when I watched Arkansas, but he’s got some upside and got playing time as a true freshman last year (including 9 starts). That’s obviously rough in the SEC, but he had 24 tackles, 4 pass break-ups and an interception despite that. Supposedly he had an up and down spring, but he had an interception (albeit on a pretty poor throw) in the spring game and has the size (6’1”, 191 pounds) that some NFL teams are starting to target in corners. I haven’t been able to evaluate him specifically yet, but he didn’t look especially fluid when I did see him. However, he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this year and in coming seasons.

Zach Hocker, K, Senior- Hocker caught my eye in the spring game during the bizarre kicking competition they had to try to give the defense some points. Normally I wouldn’t watch it, but Hocker has a legit NFL leg. He was 16/19 with a long of 51 as a freshman, but he hasn’t been quite as consistent since then. He was 21/27 with a long of 50 as a sophomore, and only 11/18 with a long of 46 as a junior. He’s got a strong leg though, he just needs to be more consistent. We’ll see if he can get back to his freshman year success, but he’s definitely got the leg to be a NFL kicker. He was just short of a 60 yard field goal in the spring game.

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Wisconsin Badgers Prospect Preview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brendan Kelly, DE/OLB, Senior- Kelly is a player I’m really rooting for because he has been through so much during his time with the Badgers. He sustained a serious groin injury as a freshman but attempted to play through it before realizing that he had torn four muscles off of his pelvis, and missed the final conference game the Badgers played that season. When he attempted to come back during fall camp the next year he aggravated the injury, leading to additional surgery and time on the sidelines. He had three total surgeries on his groin and he missed time with a hand injury as well. He stayed healthy (as far as I know) last season and the 6’6”, 258 pounder managed 28 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 TFL and 2 pass break-ups on the year. I’m not sure he’s going to be considered before the end of day 3, but the fact that he even has the chance to be drafted after all the injuries he has sustained is impressive. I’m really hoping he has a break-out year this year rotating with Tyler Dippel at outside linebacker.

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

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

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

Illinois Fighting Illini Prospect Preview

Nathan Scheehaase, QB, Senior- Scheelhaase feels like he has been at Illinois forever to me (and he has, this is his 5th and final year with the team) and while he showed some potential as a freshman he has largely been unimpressive in the years since. That may have something to do with changing offensive coordinators every year (we saw what that did to Alex Smith, after all) but blaming his unimpressive accuracy and relatively poor decision making on the constant change at offensive coordinator doesn’t add up to me. Still, it looks like the 6’3”, 200 pound senior will be the starter over Riley O’Toole (who threw four, yes FOUR, interceptions in the spring game) in spite of throwing for just 1,361 yards on 246 attempts (60.6% completion) with 4 touchdowns and 8 interceptions (usually you hope for the direct opposite ratio). He doesn’t have a very strong arm, he’s not accurate, he doesn’t protect the football, and he doesn’t have a lot of poise in the pocket. Sounds like the next Andrew Luck right? I don’t think Scheelhaase will have a great senior year, but I’ve never been a big fan and I will be very surprised if he is drafted whether it is at quarterback or wide receiver.

Wes Lunt, QB, Sophomore- I really wish Lunt could start this year but unfortunately we will all have to wait a year. I was a fan of Lunt at Oklahoma State and was rooting for him to win the starting job despite being a true freshman. He had an up and down freshman year, but upon realizing that he wouldn’t be the starter he elected to transfer. He’s still young, and he will have a year to learn Cubit’s system before he has to play, and I think he has some upside. He’s more of a pocket passer which theoretically fits Cubit’s system better, and I think he has much better arm strength than Scheelhaase. So I for one am excited to see if he can win the starting job over O’Toole (god I hope so) so I can see what he brings to the table for two or three years as the starter.

Donovonn Young, RB, Junior- I have been on the Donovonn Young bandwagon since he was a freshman and I’m not hopping off now. The offensive line was underwhelming last year (despite my fandom of Hugh Thornton) and Young only got 131 carries which he turned into 571 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those obviously aren’t eye popping numbers, but he also led the team in receptions with 38 and added 172 receiving yards and another touchdown through the air. He’s a complete back and at 6’0”, 220 he is a load to bring down in the open field. I’d say he has about 4.5 speed, some quickness, reliable hands out of the backfield, and he runs hard which I like to see. I don’t think he’s on Rashard Mendenhall’s level yet, but I still believe he has similar upside. If the Illini can solidify their offensive line I think Young could surprise a lot of people, he’s a talented back.

Justin Hardee, WR, Sophomore- The Illini have two senior wide receivers in Spencer Harris and Ryan Lankford, but neither one jumped off the screen to me when I watched Illinois during the season or in the spring game. The kid who DID jump off the screen was then freshman, now sophomore Justin Hardee. Hardee is listed at 6’1”, 190 pounds and I’m not sure how fast he is, but boy does he have good hands. He was snagging passes outside of his frame like it was nothing in the spring game and actually went over 100 yards in the game despite O’Toole’s ineptitude. Hardee is buried on the depth chart behind more experienced players like Lankford, Harris, and Martize Barr, but I think Hardee has more upside than all of them. He had 17 receptions for 192 yards last year as a true freshman, but I’m hoping he gets more playing time because I seriously think he might have the best hands on the team.

Jon Davis, TE, Junior- Jon Davis is an interesting case because while he showed a lot of promise as a freshman his production dropped from 22 receptions, 187 yards and 1 touchdown as a freshman to just 9 receptions, 88 yards and 1 touchdown as a sophomore. In fact, he had 12 more attempts RUSHING than he did receptions which I could hardly believe. He’s clearly an impressive athlete as he managed 102 yards and 1 touchdown on his 21 attempts, but I think all Illinois fans want to see him become more of a focus in the passing game as a junior and a senior. He’s got a lot of upside, but the 6’3”, 240 pound H-Back just hasn’t lived up to it yet. Hopefully he takes a big step forward as a junior, but until the quarterback play is elevated it’s going to be hard for him to put up significant numbers.

Alex Hill, C, Junior- Hill is a favorite of alioneye.com and I have to say I’m intrigued with him as well. He’s listed at 6’3”, 325 pounds and I love that size in a Center. He doesn’t have much previous experience having only started 3 games in his first two seasons, but he played in 11 games last year including one start at left guard. It sounds like the Illini haven’t had the luxury of developing their young linemen and instead have essentially been playing them before they were likely ready which explains some of their poor offensive line play last year. I’m still skeptical that their offensive line will be much better this year, but they return three starters (though Simon Cvijanovic will be moving to left tackle full time) and Hill is replacing Graham Pocic at center. Since Hill doesn’t have a lot of starting experience I’m not very familiar with his game, but he’s definitely one of the guys I’ll be keeping an eye on up front.

Simon Cvijanovic, OT, Junior- Cvijanovic caught my eye both because of his last name and because he has 15 career starts (13 at right tackle, just two at left tackle) but he will be the starting left tackle for the Illini this year. Cvijanovic is listed at 6’5”, 295 pounds and has shown me some upside as a wall-off blocker, but I’m interested to see more of him from a pass protection perspective at left tackle. He doesn’t look overly comfortable in his kick slide on the left side, though he does seem to have pretty good lateral agility. He’s still a relative unknown to me but he’s one of Illinois’ top returning linemen so he’s definitely on my watch list.

Houston Bates, DE, Junior- Bates is a linebacker who has been converted to defensive end so his speed and athleticism isn’t the question mark. He’s listed at 6’3”, 240 pounds so he will need to gain some weight if he’s going to hold up at defensive end in the Big-10. However, if there’s one player who I think could provide some boost to Illinois’ pass rush this year I think it is Bates. I don’t have any tape to base that on since he’s moving to a new position this year, but I’m excited to see what he can produce from a pass rush perspective.

Jonathan Brown, OLB, Senior- Brown is the top senior or junior prospect on the Illini in my opinion. I’ve been watching him since he was a sophomore and while he had a great sophomore year he hasn’t quite lived up to my expectations for him. Some of that has to do with injuries, but if he can stay healthy I think he can recreate his sophomore season where he had 108 tackles and 18.5 TFL. He was a force that year, but injuries robbed him of 3 games and 5 starts as a junior. The 6’1”, 235 pound linebacker still managed 59 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 7 TFL and 1 pass break-up as a junior though. Brown may not be the biggest linebacker but he is a good athlete, a reliable tackler, and he has a high football IQ. He struggles when asked to shed blocks and can get caught up in trash at times, but I think he projects pretty well to a weak-side linebacker role at the next level. He has day 2 upside, but he needs to stay healthy and show what he can do all year to help revive his stock a bit.

Mason Monheim, MLB, Sophomore- Monheim had a great freshman year and honestly watching him I wouldn’t have guessed that he was a true freshman. He had some trouble trying to spy Braxton Miller in the Ohio State game, but that’s not an easy task for anyone, much less a true freshman, to accomplish. He’s another relatively undersized linebacker who is listed at 6’1”, 230 pounds and he led the team with 86 tackles last year. He also added 1.5 sacks, 4.5 TFL, 1 pass break-up and an interception. He seems to have similar instincts as Jonathan Brown and also struggles to shed blocks much like Brown does. He has room to grow though, so he’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Indiana Hoosiers Prospect Preview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nebraska Cornhuskers Prospect Preview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota Golden Gophers Prospect Preview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boise State-Washington Prospect Preview:

Boise State:

DJ Harper, RB- Harper looks like a solid back to me. He is compact like Doug Martin was, though he isn’t as strong and isn’t as good. He is listed at 5’9”, 205 pounds and has more than enough leg drive and strength to run through arm tackles and demonstrates this consistently. In watching some highlights and clips of him earlier in his career it seems that, not surprisingly, he has lost significant explosiveness and top-end speed as a result of his two ACL injuries. He still has some burst and can make subtle cuts without losing speed, but I don’t think he’s going to run any faster than a 4.5 in the 40. He has experience pass blocking and is solid in that department and isn’t a bad receiver out of the backfield either, but his injury question marks are serious ones and that will hurt his stock. To me he is a mid-late day 3 pick that has a chance to stick, but isn’t going to be a quality starter at the next level.

Matt Miller, WR- Matt Miller is the name of a NFL Draft analyst (@nfldraftscout) but he is also a sophomore wide receiver on Boise State’s offense. He has been their most productive receiver this year as the 6’3”, 215 pound wideout produced 60 receptions, 679 yards and 5 touchdowns. He may be matching up with Desmond Trufant today, so I’m interested to see how he does.

Holden Huff, TE- Huff is Boise State’s leading receiver at tight end despite only being a freshman. He’s listed at 6’5”, 213 pounds so he is essentially just a really big receiver at this point, but as he fills out his frame he could become a very intriguing joker tight end prospect. He only had 15 receptions, 215 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he is still only a freshman. Keep an eye on him in the future.

Demarcus Lawrence, DE- Lawrence and Ukwachu are two players I am very excited about. Lawrence is only a sophomore but he led Boise State in tackles for loss and sacks this year, his first with the program. He has 8.5 sacks, 5.0 TFL, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery (returned for a TD), an interception and a blocked kick. He is listed at 6’3”, 242 pounds and has some burst off the ball. I haven’t seen enough of him to have a great feel for his game, but he stuck out to me immediately when I watched Boise State a couple weeks ago. He’s may already be their best defensive player already despite only being a sophomore. ****UPDATE**** According to @IDS_BroncoBeat Lawrence has been sent home for a violation of team rules and will miss the bowl game against Washington. This is Lawrence’s second suspension. Huge loss for Boise State and concerning for such a talented player.

Samuel Ukwachu, DE- Ukwachu stuck out to me just as quickly as Lawrence did and he is only a freshman. He is listed at 6’4”, 222 pounds and had 4.5 sacks as well as 2.5 TFL, 1 forced fumble and one pass break-up. He’s not a starter yet, but he is explosive off the ball and seemed to have impressive length when I saw him earlier this year. These two are going to be a dynamic pass rushing tandem for the next two years if Lawrence stays in school until he’s a senior. If not, next year they could be one of the better young tandems in the country.

Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe, DT*- I haven’t paid attention to Tjong-A-Tjoe much when I’ve watched Boise State, but his name alone is intriguing. Add in the fact that he is an athletic 6’2”, 296 pound defensive tackle and the fact that he is only a junior who is originally from the Netherlands and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on him today. He’s flashed burst off the ball, some intriguing hand usage and he seems to have a good motor. I’ll be keeping a close eye on him today, but it seems that Boise State has certainly reloaded as far as their defensive line talent is concerned.

JC Percy, ILB- Percy is an undersized linebacker that likely won’t be a NFL Draft pick, but the 6’0”, 227 pound middle linebacker is a productive tackler who may not be a fantastic athlete, but could contribute on special teams and perhaps as a back-up linebacker at the next level. If he doesn’t make a NFL roster I think he may get CFL looks.

Jamar Taylor, CB- Taylor is a potential top 100 draft pick for Boise State. He is listed at 5’11”, 196 pounds and as far as I know he hasn’t been invited to the Shrine Game or the Senior Bowl yet. That surprises me a little bit, but hopefully he will be at one of them. I’m not that familiar with his game, but he is one guy I am definitely going to keep an eye on today. He is likely Boise State’s top 2013 prospect.

Darian Thompson, CB- Thompson is only a freshman but he has a lot of upside in my opinion. He’s listed at 6’1”, 197 pounds, he had 25 solo tackles this year, 3 pass break-ups, 3 interceptions and a fumble recovery. This will be my first game to really key on him, but I’m excited to see if he gets to match up with Kasen Williams at all today. They’re both talented young players, so keep an eye on Thompson.

Washington:

Keith Price, QB*- Price was a popular name as he took the Pac-12 by storm as a sophomore last year and capped it off with a terrific performance against Baylor’s pathetic defense in Washington’s exciting loss in the Alamo Bowl (video courtesy of @jmpasq, follow him on Twitter). This year he has underwhelmed and it is reflected in the win column for Washington and on Price’s personal stat sheet. He doesn’t have great arm strength, though I do think it is above average, as is his accuracy. He looked like a potentially special player last year, but he has come back down to Earth this year. He’s athletic and he has a flair for the improvisational play, but his decision-making could use improvement and while he still has a year of eligibility left it’s hard to project him as anything beyond a Day 3 pick at this point. Still, he has more than enough talent to be a quality college starter, and if Boise State sleeps on him he could surprise them with a performance reminiscent of his game against Baylor last year. He’s got plenty of weapons to choose from, most notably Austin Sefarian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams.

Bishop Sankey, RB- Sankey is a player that I am not at all familiar with, but in replacing Chris Polk this year the 5’10” 200 pound sophomore has produced 1,234 rushing yards (4.76 ypc) and 15 touchdowns as well as 175 yards on 27 receptions through the air. If Boise State can slow him down it will make Washington one dimensional and put a lot of pressure on Keith Price to carry the load, but if Sankey makes plays and Boise State has to put an additional safety in the box Price is going to take deep shots down the seam to Sefarian-Jenkins and on the outside to Kasen Williams. Much like Polk was last year, Sankey is the cog that makes this offense go.

Kasen Williams, WR- Williams is a sophomore receiver that I really, really like. He is listed at 6’2”, 216 pounds and he has impressive athleticism, hands and he has been making plays since he was a freshman last year. He has 6 touchdowns this year (matching his production as a freshman) and he gives Washington a dynamic duo of pass catchers between himself and Sefarian-Jenkins. They’re both future NFL Draft picks, though ASJ will likely go higher. Still, Williams is a very impressive talent and I can’t wait to see him against Jamar Taylor today.

Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, TE- Sefarian-Jenkins, or “ASJ”, is the best tight end in the country. I love Tyler Eifert, but ASJ is better in my opinion. He isn’t eligible for the draft this year, but I think ASJ is going to be a 1st round pick next year barring injury and he reminds me so much of Tony Gonzalez. He stuck out immediately when I watched Washington last year to get a look at Chris Polk and he has become incredibly popular ever since. I’d like to think I was one of the earliest on his bandwagon, but regardless of how early I was or wasn’t a fan of his it’s blatantly obvious that he is a very special talent at tight end. He is a player that Boise State just won’t have an answer for on defense and if Washington wants to win they need to get him the ball early and often.

Josh Shirley, DE/OLB- Shirley is a player that stuck out a lot against Baylor and RGIII last year and he has a lot of explosion off the ball to threaten the edge with the speed rush. I’m interested to see how Boise State deals with the talented sophomore because he could give Southwick a lot of problems off the edge. He’s undersized at 6’3”, 230 pounds though so if you run at him you can wear him down. I imagine that is the gameplan for Boise State today with DJ Harper. He has 15 sacks the past two years (6.5 this year) though, so don’t be surprised if he gets another one today.

Andrew Hudson, DE/OLB- Hudson is a player I’m not as familiar with as Shirley but he is a talented pass rusher as well. He’s more filled out than Shirley at 6’3”, 249 pounds and registered 3.5 sacks as a freshman before totaling 6.5 this year to tie Shirley for the team lead. These two are both just sophomores but they have plenty of upside and I’m very interested to see them play against a balanced offense like Boise State today. If they can hold up versus the run and put some pressure on Southwick they will have a chance for an upset.

Danny Shelton, DT- Shelton is yet another talented sophomore on Washington’s defense, but Shelton has been tasked with replacing Alameda Ta’amu after he graduated last year, leaving a gaping hole at nose tackle (literally). Shelton is still very young, but the squatty 6’1”, 317 pound defensive tackle played a key role in upsetting Stanford earlier this season and if he continues to progress he is going to be a very appealing 3-4 NT at the next level. He hasn’t offered a ton of pass rush thus far, but if he can plug up the run and force Boise State into 3rd and longs Washington will have a great chance at an upset today.

Desmond Trufant, CB- Trufant is a talented senior corner with a NFL lineage thanks to his brother Marcus. He will likely be a Day Two pick (2nd-3rd round) and I am looking forward to seeing him today and in person at the senior bowl. He is Washington’s top NFL prospect, so I am looking forward to seeing him match up with Kasen Williams on the outside today. He’s listed at 6’0”, 186 pounds and has NFL caliber athleticism and is a talented man coverage corner. He only has 7 pass break-ups and 1 interception this year, but that likely has to do with teams avoiding him and testing other Washington corners instead. He has impressive ball skills and looks like a quality NFL starter to me.

Sean Parker, S*- I’m not very familiar with Parker’s game, but he is one of the Huskies’ starting safeties and he has a knack for coming up with interceptions. He has 7 in his young career, including 6 the last two years (2 this year, 4 as a sophomore). He is listed at 5’10”, 190 pounds and is from Los Angeles, California but has been overshadowed by the dynamic talent of Shaq Thompson this year. I think Parker has some talent of his own though, so I’m interested to see how he does today.

Shaq Thompson, S- Plenty of people are familiar with Thompson, but in case you aren’t he was one of the best players in California and one of the best safeties in the nation coming out of high school and he has predictably made an immediate impact as a true freshman this year. I hope you’re sitting down, because the 6’2”, 215 pound safety has 66 total tackles (40 solo, and he packs a punch as a hitter), 6.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery and a blocked kick. Don’t be surprised if this dynamic safety is making plays all over the field today. However, he is still young, so it will be interesting to see if he makes any freshman mistakes against a historically disciplined Boise State team.

Corey Robinson, QB, Troy:*

Overall: Robinson impressed me, though he only attempted 11 passes, and for the most part he had a clean pocket as a result of good protection and made easy throws. He was accurate and threw a beautiful deep ball vs 1 on 1 coverage, but I didn’t see him come off his primary read regularly. Obviously I need to see more of him, and he’s just a junior, but I think he has a NFL future. He’s impressed me since he was a freshman at Troy, and has been overlooked because of his height his entire football career. He can play, and I hope he’s alright as it looked like he may have sustained a concussion.

Quanterus Smith, DE, WKU:

Overall: I came in excited to watch Smith against Troy but despite flashing a bit of hand usage to keep his blocker off balance he didn’t do anything as a pass rusher despite entering the game with 6.5 sacks on the season (including one against DJ Fluker). He has some edge speed, flashes of hand usage, and seems to have a solid motor, but that didn’t translate into production against Troy. Had Robinson not been knocked out just before halftime I have plenty of confidence that Troy would have beaten WKU, and Smith’s inability to beat Troy’s RT like he stole something played a big role in that.

Jack Doyle, TE, WKU:

Overall: Doyle impressed me. He’s not a 1st round prospect by any means, but as a mid-late round prospect I think he has some value. This was the first time I’d watched him, so it’s impossible for me to put a round grade on him given that, but he has the size at 6’6”, 252 pounds, looks pretty athletic, gave good effort as a blocker and caught all the passes I saw thrown to him (even though they were mostly underneath). He needs technique work as a blocker, but he showed that he can be a wall-off type even if he didn’t get much push or sustain consistently against defensive ends in the run game. He’s a solid prospect, so keep an eye on him.

Mitchell Henry, TE, WKU:**

Overall: If Doyle was solid and consistent, Henry was eye-catching and intriguing. At first I thought he was a wide receiver, but he’s a 6’4”, 245 pound tight end who is an interesting joker tight end prospect. He is an athletic kid with some burst to him, he releases off the line of scrimmage well, looks smooth when running his routes, seems to have good hands and showed that he can make tough catches in traffic a few times last night. I’m definitely a fan, and since he is only a sophomore he should have two years as the starter barring unforeseen circumstances after Doyle graduates.

Antonio Andrews, RB, WKU:*

Overall: Andrews finished with 26 carries for 113 yards (4.6 ypc) and 1 reception for 14 yards, but he easily could have had a couple touchdowns receiving as he beat linebackers with his route running in man coverage at least two or three times and was horribly overthrown by his quarterback Jakes (who is not nearly draftable despite being born one day after me on February 28th, 1990). He impressed me as a route runner and as a runner despite fumbling the ball twice. He is a bigger back at 6’0”, 211 pounds but has legitimate athleticism and shiftiness to him which I liked. Both of his fumbles, from what I could see, were forced by defenders getting their helmets on the ball and dislodging it. There’s not a ton you can do about that, but the little that he could have done (cover the ball with two hands when contact was imminent) didn’t happen, and that is on him. What bothered me more was even later in the game, despite fumbling twice in the first half, still was running towards and through contact with one arm on the ball and on one play I thought he was definitely going to get stripped from behind. I like Andrews, but he needs to work on ball security. He’s only a junior and I would be surprised if he declared after this season, but it’s his first year as a starter and he has had a great start to the season after stepping up to replace Bobby Rainey after he left for the NFL. I like him, but he has room to improve.

Andrew Jackson, MLB, WKU:*

Overall: Jackson was a very pleasant surprise for me because I love instinctual middle linebackers that can deliver a big hit. It’s one reason I really liked Curtis Lofton, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes coming out, and it’s why I like Jackson. He’s listed at 6’1”, 265 pounds but he looked like he could stand to lose 10-15 pounds and perhaps help himself move even better than he does. He looked like a pretty good athlete despite potentially carrying extra weight, and he is a tackling machine. He had 17 TFL last season during his first year as a starter while he also had 100+ tackles (40-45 solos if I remember correctly) and already has at least 7.5 TFL thus far as a junior. I think he may need to improve his conditioning, because I think he was taken out for a few plays on one of Troy’s longer drives, but that comes back to the weight issue. If he drops that and improves his conditioning LOOK OUT. He’s a nice middle linebacker and I definitely enjoyed watching him against Troy.

Xavius Boyd, OLB, WKU:*

Overall: Boyd is another talented junior linebacker on WKU. I didn’t see him as much as Jackson, but he filled downhill well and made a couple nice plays on the goal line to help force Troy to attempt a fake field goal despite having the ball inside the 10, getting a pass interference penalty, and then still getting stopped three more times. It was an impressive stand, and Boyd definitely contributed to it.

From now until the season starts (WHICH IS TODAY!) 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 Clemson Tigers. Clemson shocked everyone last year when they started 8-0, but their late season collapse was not quite as surprising, and it ended with an absolute beat-down against West Virginia. Clemson’s offense is poised for another explosive season even if they will be without star receiver Sammy Watkins for a couple games. Tajh Boyd is returning for his second season as a starter and has plenty of weapons to throw to, but the question is how will his protection be. Brandon Thomas has established himself as the left tackle, and Dalton Freeman is one of the top centers in the nation, but the rest of the offensive line is unproven. If they are going to compete for an ACC title in the same division as the exceedingly talented Florida State Seminoles they are going to need Boyd to be at the top of his game, and for that to happen the offensive line will have to step up. I don’t think Clemson will beat FSU this year, and that’s why I don’t have them repeating as ACC champs.

Defense was the major problem with Clemson last year, and they return without their top pass rusher Andre Branch and their stud defensive tackle Brandon Thompson. They have a very young group of defensive tackles, but defensive end should continue to be a strength. I’m a big fan of Malliciah Goodman, and sophomore defensive end Corey Crawford will be looking to do his best Andre Branch impression this season. They have a star middle linebacker in the making in Stephone Anthony, a stud corner in the making in Baushaud Breeland, and plenty of talent and depth at safety. I know Clemson fans are hoping that the additional experience in the secondary will help eliminate some of the big plays that plagued the team last year. They have to improve at all levels of the defense, and how good they get will determine how competitive they will be with FSU. With that, here are Clemson’s prospects to keep an eye on:

Tajh Boyd, QB*- Boyd is an intriguing quarterback who is still very young and likely will leave Clemson with three full years of starting experience if he stays healthy. He started all 14 games last year and really helped put Clemson on the map by starting his season with 24 touchdowns and 3 interceptions over the first 8 games en route to Clemson starting 8-0. They faltered down the stretch however, and over that same span Boyd threw just 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. He passed 499 times last season and completed 298 of them (59.7%) and threw for 3,828 yards, 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Boyd is listed at just 6’1”, 225 pounds but he does have a strong arm and plenty of athleticism to compensate for his relative lack of size. He’s a late round prospect right now, but if he works hard to improve his ability to read defenses, learns to make better decisions (and throw the ball away, something I haven’t seen him do much) and embraces his role as a leader he could improve that stock. He reportedly weighed around 235 pounds towards the end of last season which he and his offensive coordinator think made him less effective and more prone to mistakes. I think it was a mix of his increased weight and the fact that teams had film on him to figure out what his tendencies were and what he struggled with. That appeared to be zone coverage more than anything else, because I don’t think he had the anticipation to throw his receivers open and was therefore trying to put throws into tight windows when defenses dropped into zone. Hopefully he has been watching film and studying that, because good and great quarterbacks can dissect zone coverage when teams drop into it. Boyd isn’t there yet, but he’s got plenty of ability and if he starts off anything like he did last season he will be firmly in the early season Heisman contention.

Andre Ellington, RB- Ellington is returning for his final season as a Clemson Tiger after his best season statistically last season. He rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns (5.3 ypc) which matches his rushing total from his first two seasons with the team (1,175 yards as a freshman and sophomore combined) and fell just three touchdowns short of matching his previous career total for touchdowns. Now he is trying to follow it up with an even better season, and thanks to his explosive speed and burst he will have a chance to do so. That hinges on how well the offensive line will be able to block for him though, as they lose three of five starters from 2011 and there will be some growing pains associated with that. Ellington is listed at 5’10”, 190 pounds and has never struck me as a feature back at the next level, but rather as a good or very good 3rd down and complementary back. He doesn’t run through contact well and struggles to gain tough yards after contact is initiated. He’s very explosive though and has 4.4 speed, tons of quickness and is very dangerous in the open field. He catches the ball pretty well out of the backfield too, having caught 45 passes over his career including 22 last year for 109 yards. He’s not going to be a 1st round pick like his teammate CJ Spiller was in my opinion, but he has a great shot to go in the first 3 rounds because of his game-changing speed and athleticism.

Sammy Watkins, WR**- Watkins burst onto the scene last season as a true freshman and proved to be one of the most dynamic players in the country despite his age. He is listed at 6’1”, 200 pounds and has fantastic speed, burst and elusiveness. He caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns last year as well as rushing for 231 yards on just 32 carries. He was also a dynamic kick returner, returning 33 kickoffs for 826 yards (25.0 avg) and 1 touchdown. Even more impressive was that he did this in just 10 games as a result of injury, so his statistics shouldn’t suffer much even in spite of his early season suspension. He probably was ready to go to the NFL as a slot receiver and return man, but for the next two years we will have the privilege of seeing him polish his route running and if he stays healthy he should be a 1st round draft pick when he comes out after his junior season. He’s so pro-ready that I don’t expect him to stay beyond his junior year, but I hope that he doesn’t get in any more off-field trouble. He’s a special talent and if he keeps working and doesn’t get in any more trouble he will likely be a top 20 NFL Draft pick.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR*- Hopkins is often overshadowed by Watkins’ greatness, but he is a very good NFL Draft prospect in his own right. He’s listed at 6’1”, 210 pounds and while he isn’t quite as explosive as Watkins is he still has plenty of speed and quickness. Like Watkins he needs to improve as a route runner, but he has all the tools necessary to do so, he just has to work at it. Hopkins has pretty long arms, big hands and catches the ball well outside of his frame which makes it easier for Boyd to get him the ball. He knows Hopkins can catch passes that aren’t thrown right on the numbers, and that’s why Hopkins had 52 catches as a true freshman and 72 more as a sophomore. He had 978 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, but look for him to exceed 1,000 yards this year. He and Boyd will likely be in sync during Watkins’ suspension and that should continue the rest of the season.

Martavis Bryant, WR**- Bryant is a freak athlete who is listed at 6’5”, 205 pounds but was the 2nd fastest player on the entire roster in 40 yard dash competitions. The only player faster? Watkins. But at 6’5”, Bryant has immense upside, perhaps even more than Watkins given his height and length. Bryant is very inconsistent at this point, however, showing flashes of brilliance at times but not quite getting it at others. That was reflected by his stat line: he only had 9 receptions, but he averaged 24.6 yards per reception on the way to totaling 221 yards and 2 touchdowns on those 9 catches. He’s an explosive athlete with immense potential, he just has to work to get there. I hope that Hopkins and other receivers help mentor him so that he can start to reach his unbelievable potential this season, because with Bryant and Hopkins on the outside and Watkins on the inside this Clemson offense could be borderline unstoppable as long as the ball comes out on time. The light may not come on for Bryant this year (though I hope it does) but if it comes on in the next two years LOOK! OUT! He’s got the talent to be a top 5-10 pick because of his size and pure speed.

Charone Peake, WR**- Peake is another rising sophomore who got some playing time as a true freshman last season. He’s listed at 6’3”, 205 pounds and only caught 4 passes for 71 yards last year, good for a 17.1 average per reception. It’s unclear exactly how Clemson plans to get the ball to all of these talented receivers, but with Watkins out for the first couple games one of these young guys could emerge opposite Hopkins to help take the pressure off of him. Peake was inconsistent last year, much like Bryant, but also dealt with injuries that helped hold him back. He’s got a ton of potential in his own right, and if the light comes on this year and he stays healthy he could break out as well.

Jaron Brown, WR- Clemson has one of the deepest and most talented groups of receivers in the country, and Jaron Brown is a significant part of that. He’s got good hands and is a reliable target, standing at 6’2”, 200 pounds. He’s certainly not the most explosive receiver on the roster, that distinction belongs to Watkins, but his reliability complements the explosiveness of some of the other Clemson Tiger receivers. Brown has a 40 time in the 4.6 range, and likely won’t be drafted, but if he can show quality route running and reliable hands he could earn a shot at a NFL camp.

Brandon Ford, TE- Ford came to Clemson as a 6’4”, 200 pound wide receiver but in 2010 he moved to tight end and was Dwayne Allen’s primary back-up during his Mackey Award winning (award given to the best tight end in the nation) season for the Tigers last year. It was the best statistical season a Clemson Tiger tight end has ever had, and it will be a hard, but not impossible, act to follow. Ford has plenty of experience, especially since he played in all 14 games last season, but has never been relied upon as the primary security blanket in the offense. He is listed at 6’4”, 235 pounds now but was supposedly a lean 240 pounds in the spring and had hoped to add more good weight before the season started. I don’t know much about him from a blocking standpoint, and that will be interesting to see, but he had 14 receptions, 166 yards and 2 touchdowns last season and with all the talent at receiver Ford will be flying under the radar most of the season. He should be good for 40-50 receptions, 500-600 yards and 5-7 touchdowns, which would be perfect for replacing Allen. Despite his Mackey award, he only had 50 receptions, 598 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. Those aren’t unattainable numbers at all, and I think Ford has a great shot at replicating them this year. He probably won’t be a top 64 draft pick, but I think he has the potential to be a top 100 pick especially if he shows some ability as an inline blocker.

Brandon Thomas, OT*- Thomas was the starting left guard for Clemson last season and did a pretty good job, but then the starting left tackle Phillip Price suffered a sprained knee against Wake Forest and wasn’t the same the rest of the season. Thomas was therefore forced out to left tackle for only one start but played there for considerable game time over the final four games. He wasn’t great as it was a complete position change (even though he was recruited to Clemson as an offensive tackle) and the play of the offensive line in addition to an antsy, less mobile Tajh Boyd was not a good combination for the Clemson offense. Thomas enters this season, however, with at least some experience at the position and made progress at the position in the spring. His versatility to play left tackle as well as slide inside to left guard is valuable, but the 6’3”, 300 pound lineman will be asked to protect Boyd’s blind-side first and foremost. Because of his size and length he doesn’t really project to offensive tackle in the NFL, but his time spent at guard will help him when he is asked to slide back inside in the future. Until then, his adequate foot speed and lateral agility will have to be enough for him to keep Boyd upright at left tackle. His match-ups against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and South Carolina, teams with great defensive ends or pass rushers, might not be pretty though. That’s one of the reasons why I think Florida State will win the Atlantic division of the ACC. I should also mention that when Thomas was 19 years old and back home from school he was arrested for disorderly conduct, charged with a misdemeanor and fined $262 as a result. Honestly, it’s barely even worth mentioning because I haven’t been able to find any instances of him getting in trouble off the field in the years since that occurred, but knowledge is power so now you’re all a little more powerful. Also, for what it’s worth, there is a true freshman named Isaiah Battle who is listed at 6’7”, 265 pounds but has apparently held his own in fall camp and “hasn’t been out-athleted by anyone” according to Head Coach Dabo Swinney. He needs to fill out, but if he does and he maintains his impressive athleticism Thomas could be sliding inside to guard as a senior before he even makes it to the NFL Draft.

Dalton Freeman, C- Freeman is one of the top centers in the nation and he enters his senior year with an impressive 36 career starts at the position for the Tigers. Freeman is listed at 6’5”, 285 pounds and is a good athlete, showing that he can get to the second level and move well for his size. His problem is that despite his starting experience he hasn’t filled out his frame yet, and even if he is only truly 6’4” he has the frame to weigh 300-310 pounds quite easily, and will be asked to gain weight once he is auditioning for and gets to the NFL. The additional strength, especially in the lower body, will help him generate more push in the run game and anchor better versus defensive tackles 1 on 1 in pass protection. The reason he is one of the top centers in the country already is his football IQ (his father was a high school football coach) and his leadership capability, and those intangible qualities will be music to the ears of talent evaluators. Add that in to his starting experience, which could be 49-50 career starts depending on if he is healthy all year (he has proven to be quite durable) and if Clemson goes to a bowl game and the ACC title game. Freeman has the potential to be big and strong enough to be a “3rd guard” in the run game, which is part of what makes Wisconsin’s running game so dangerous. Having a center who can block interior defensive linemen one on one in the run and pass game makes the entire offensive line better, and while Freeman isn’t quite there yet he has the frame and pedigree to get there. Add that to his football IQ, leadership and experience and you have one of the top center prospects in the country.

Malliciah Goodman, DE- Goodman was a bit under the radar as a first year starter at defensive end for Clemson and it will likely remain that way until he breaks out. He is listed at 6’4”, 280 pounds and didn’t blow anyone away last year with his statistics (59 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 pass deflection and 1 forced fumble). He might not have a ton of sacks in his career (5 in his 3 years at Clemson) but Goodman has a penchant for forcing fumbles having forced four over the past two seasons. He played as many snaps last year as he had played the previous 2 seasons combined, and started all 14 games for Clemson. He’s not an overly explosive pass rusher and his numbers evidence that, but he has a great frame, is strong, has long arms and surprisingly good hip flexibility to dip his shoulder and get the edge. He’s not going to break the NFL sack record, but the ability to bull rush, use his long arms effectively to keep blockers off of him and to get them up in passing lanes is really intriguing. He’s quite inconsistent off the ball when it is snapped which is often the only reason he gets pushed off the ball by 1 on 1 blocks, otherwise he is very reliable against the run and seems to see the field well and read run or pass quickly. He’s assignment reliable and has shown that he will keep contain and not get sucked in by play-action and give up an easy boot-leg to his side, and collapses well down the line of scrimmage. He’s flashed violent hands at times, but really needs to improve his hand usage and develop a rip and swim move to improve his pass rush repertoire. Right now it is a speed rush with a dip off the edge, a bull rush (which he doesn’t disengage from that well right now) or he comes free on an inside move or a stunt. That said, he has a lot of upside and projects well to the 4-3 left end position because he has the size and strength to hold up versus the run, particularly as he continues to improve his pad level, his timing off the ball, and as he works on his hand usage and pass rush moves he should provide more of a pass rush than he does now. He seems to read plays well and react to them quickly, which is great to see from a defensive end, particularly versus the run. I still don’t know what I think of his motor, it looks solid to me right now, but I don’t know much beyond that. He’s an intriguing player, and in a draft class with an abundance of pass rush upside Goodman will likely be overlooked thanks to his modest 2011 statistics, but his run defense, awareness and experience will not go unnoticed by NFL teams. I think he has a great shot at the top 75 and could go even higher if he has a better statistical year now that Andre Branch has moved on to the NFL.

Corey Crawford, DE**- Crawford is listed at 6’5”, 280 pounds and at that listing you’d think “he’s got to be another Goodman or Bowers right?” You’d be wrong, at least according to him. Crawford defines himself as a speed rusher, and to get back to that he has reportedly dropped about 15 pounds to get down to 265 pounds. That should help his get-off and his burst to beat tackles off the edge, which is something his predecessor Andre Branch had a penchant for doing. Crawford actually graduated in 2010 but had to enroll in a military school for a year because his grades weren’t in good enough shape to get into Clemson. That’s a bit of a red flag for me, but he came in and produced 29 tackles, 2 TFL and 2 pass deflections as a true freshman last year. He’s projected to be the starter opposite Goodman this year, and if he has more speed and burst then he could be in for a 6-8 sack season. He’s got a lot of upside, but I’m not sure if this will be his year to reach it. Clemson defensive ends usually don’t usually seem to turn it on until their second full season as a starter. Gaines Adams broke out as a junior in what I believe was his second full season as a starter. Bowers didn’t have a break-out season until he was a junior, and Andre Branch broke out in his second full season as a starter as a senior. That means Crawford likely won’t have a true break-out campaign as a sophomore, but he could very well have a good season and blow up as a junior as is the Clemson trend.

Stephone Anthony, MLB**- Anthony may have only started 3 games last year but he played in 13 of Clemson’s 14 games and totaled 32 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks and 1 pass deflection as a true freshman. Now he is the expected starter at middle linebacker despite suffering a torn ligament in his finger that required surgery in the spring. He should be good to go for the opener though, and the 6’3”, 235 pound linebacker should be ready for an impressive statistical season. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables named him the starting middle linebacker and is entrusting him with being the “quarterback of the defense” despite only being a true sophomore. It will be interesting to see how he does in his starting role, but he has a lot of potential.

Corico Hawkins, OLB- Hawkins previously started at middle linebacker but has moved outside to the weakside spot in favor of Anthony starting in the middle. Anthony has a superior combination of size and athletic ability to Hawkins who is just 5’11”, 230 pounds. Still, he has been very productive for the Tigers, and he has 25 career starts for Clemson. He’s playing a new position, but his productivity should improve since it is better suited to his skill set. He had 80 tackles, 5 TFL and 2 pass break-ups last year, but keeping him away from big interior offensive linemen should help, and if he can use his athleticism to avoid blockers it should help him get in on more stops at or near the line of scrimmage. I’m not sure he’s much more than a UDFA at this point thanks to his size and lack of great playmaking ability, but his wealth of experience won’t be ignored.

Bashaud Breeland, CB**- Breeland made a name for himself as a playmaking corner last year despite being a redshirt freshman. He played in all 14 games, started 7, and had 53 tackles, 1 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions (including a 1 handed beauty against Maryland) and appears to have fantastic hands and ball skills. Add that to his 6’0”, 185 pound frame and his 4.4 speed and you can’t help but wonder how good this kid is going to get. I can’t wait to see him match up with some of the wide receiver talent in the ACC, particularly against Florida State. He’s got a lot of upside and a bright NFL future if he continues to improve.

Xavier Brewer, FS- Brewer is the most versatile defender in Clemson’s secondary and will be asked to play both corner and safety during the year. He will likely play nickel corner and free safety, and his 23 career starts will prove valuable this season. He’s not a great corner, but the versatility to play there will be valuable for Clemson this year and when he attempts to make it to the next level. He’s got good size for a corner at 5’11”, 190 pounds but isn’t as well built for safety as you might like. However, his listed 4.42 speed will help him cover a lot of ground in the secondary, and that should make him valuable when he is playing deep centerfield for the Tigers.

Jonathan Meeks, SS- Meeks is a player that I actually like, but plenty of people don’t seem to. He’s inconsistent and I wasn’t impressed with his tackling, but he has good ball skills and that’s something I value over almost everything else at defensive back. He’s listed at 6’1”, 210 pounds and has a listed 40 time of 4.52 but looks a bit faster than that when I watch him. He’s got the ball skills, but I’m not sure how good his instincts and awareness are, and he doesn’t take very good angles and tackle that well. He’s got upside, and I think he has a shot to be a late round draft pick right now, but if he’s ever going to stick in the NFL he’s going to have to improve those aspects of his game. That said, I like him as a bit of an under the radar prospect.

Rashard Hall, SS- Hall is the veteran of the Clemson secondary and is considered the best draft eligible prospect of the group. I wasn’t a big fan of him last year, as I saw him miss some tackles, but he was playing through a knee injury that he had surgery for after the season, and he was still the leading tackler on Clemson’s defense last season. As I often say, it’s not ideal to have one of your safeties leading the team in tackling, and it showed as Clemson’s defense gave up 29.3 points per game (a 10.5 ppg jump from 2010), 394 yards per game including 177 on the ground, which is likely where Hall got a number of his tackles as he filled from the safety position. Opposing defenses averaged 4.4 yards per carry against the Tigers, but also completed 58.3% of all attempted passes. That means the front 7 needs to step up, but so does the secondary. Hall will play a big role in that, and if he is healthy, more instinctual and is able to break down better I could warm up to him more as a prospect. At 6’1”, 210 he has solid size for a strong safety and he had 89 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 pass break-up, 2 interceptions as well as one forced and recovered fumble. He’s got upside, and is one of the better senior safeties in the country, but I want to see some improvement from him before I label him as a potential top 75-100 pick.

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 Florida State, and my god are they talented. This preview took me hours longer than I expected it to only because of the sheer vastness of talent that Jimbo Fisher and Florida State have assembled. It’s almost unbelievable, and there’s no way to cover it all in one post. I, however, took my best shot at it here. On offense the ‘Noles return 8 starters including quarterback EJ Manuel who was good but not great in his first full season as a starter last year. That obviously had a lot to do with the massive number of injuries that FSU’s offense sustained last year, especially along the offensive line, but Manuel has plenty of room to improve before I will grade him as even a 2nd round pick. Luckily, the FSU running game should be much improved this season thanks in part to true sophomore Devonta Freeman, and Manuel has plenty of receiving threats to throw the ball to. Rashad Greene is my favorite, but Rodney Smith, Christian Green and Nick O’Leary should all be reliable, consistent targets this season. The question for me is the offensive line, where they have some talent and depth but not an abundance of starting experience. They aren’t a reliable unit and they lost their top two tackles from a year ago, Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders. Stepping up to replace them is going to be critical, especially since Manuel has a tendency to hang onto the ball longer than he should.

The defense, however, should carry this team to at least 10 wins this season. With a unit this talented anything else would be a disappointment. It’s not completely inconceivable that Florida State could have 3 top 40 picks just at defensive end, and they also have the top recruit in the country Mario Edwards entering the fold at the defensive end spot. They have everything from a potential 1st round pick in Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle, to a top 100 prospect nose tackle in Anthony “Amp” McCloud, to an underrated 3 tech in Everett Dawkins. They also have a pair of reliable middle linebackers and a stud outside linebacker in Christian Jones. Top that off with a pair of probable 1st round picks in Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner in the secondary and you have to wonder how anyone plans on getting into field goal range against this defense, much less scoring touchdowns. This defense is going to be incredible, and if the offensive line steps up and EJ Manuel starts to live up to his potential this team could be downright scary. I’m not confident in the offensive line or in EJ, however, and that means I still think Virginia Tech is going to come through as the ACC Champion. With that, here is my prospect preview of Florida State’s insanely talented roster:

P.S. I have to give a huge shout-out to TomahawkNation.com because they were a fantastic resource for this piece and they do an absolutely unbelievable job covering Florida State and football in general over there. Give them a read whether you like Florida State or not.

EJ Manuel, QB- Manuel is returning for his second full season as a starter with 17 career starts over his Seminole career. He’s listed at 6’5”, 238 pounds and definitely passes the eye test, and his strong arm is noticeable right away. Not only that, but he is very athletic for his size which helped him rush for 141 yards and 4 touchdowns last year in addition to passing for 2,666 yards (65.3% completion), 18 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions. One would assume he would improve on those numbers this year, particularly with some intriguing talent returning at receiver and running back, but I will be looking to see how his accuracy develops in addition to his pocket poise and ability to read defenses. He’s definitely got potential, but at this point he’s a lot closer to a 3rd round prospect than a 1st rounder in my opinion. I don’t think he processes information quickly enough to be a top college quarterback and eventual quality NFL starter, and unless his head catches up with his arm and his body he’s going to be a physically gifted quarterback who never put it together from the mental aspect of the game. Until he proves that his football IQ has improved and that he can read defenses well I’m not going to grade him in the top 64 picks.

Devonta Freeman, RB**- Freeman is only a true sophomore but he led the Seminoles in rushing last season, overtaking the oft-injured Jermaine Thomas. He rushed just 120 times but gained 579 yards (4.8 ypc) and 8 touchdowns as a freshman. I think he’s poised for a huge break-out season this year, as he is healthy and ready to rumble. He is listed at 5’8”, 200 pounds and honestly his running style and tools reminds me of Trent Richardson. I know that’s extremely high praise, but I can’t help but think of Richardson when I watch him run. He is not afraid to lower his pads and initiate contact with defenders, he churns his legs very well to get tough yards, he falls forward consistently, he has plenty of speed to rip off big chunks of yardage, he is shifty and can make defenders miss, and he has flashed the ability to catch passes well out of the backfield despite only having 15 receptions for 94 yards last season. I’m a big Freeman fan, and I hope he gets way more than 120 carries this season because this kid is special.

Rashad Greene, WR**- I may be a huge fan of Devonta Freeman but I am just as big a fan of Rashad Greene. He was mind-blowingly good as a true freshman last year as he led FSU in receptions (38), receiving yards (596) and touchdowns (7) all while having a 15.7 yards per reception average. He has fantastic hands, adjusts so well to the ball and just has a knack for making critical catches when his team needs him to. He can still improve as a route runner, but he is already pretty respectable in that department for such a young player. His body control and concentration is exceptional, and I think the 6’0”, 175 pound receiver is already one of the best in the ACC. He showed that consistently last year, and he has all the speed, burst and ball skills you could ever want in a wide receiver. Much like Freeman, this kid is SPECIAL.

Rodney Smith, WR- Smith is returning for his senior year with 20 career starts, including 12 last year during which he totaled 36 receptions, 561 yards and 4 touchdowns. At 6’6”, 219 pounds Smith is a huge target and has tons of potential as a red-zone threat. He came to FSU as a very raw player that needed to grow into his frame, and now that he is listed at 219 pounds he seems to have done so. He doesn’t have explosive speed but he is a long strider with build-up speed that can sneak behind defenses if they don’t keep an eye on him. Because of his height he has plenty of potential to come down with jump balls, and has good hands so he is able to win some of those match-ups. He’s not a top 100 pick at this point, but he has worked hard to fill out his frame, improve his route running and learn to shield defenders from the ball with his 6’6” frame. 6’6” receivers with good hands are exceedingly rare, and it seems that Smith fits that bill. If he can continue to show improvement, particularly in his route running, he will catch plenty of eyes as a senior. This senior receiver class is significantly worse than the 2012 draft class, so if Smith has a great season he could really vault himself up draft boards.

Christian Green, WR**- Green is another explosive receiver that Manuel will have to find a way to get the ball to on a regular basis. Green is listed at 6’2”, 206 and has fantastic raw athleticism and tons of speed, and as a redshirt freshman last season he had 26 receptions, 450 yards but no touchdowns. His speed presents a lot of potential headaches for defenses, but his route running needs considerable work so he is able to be bottled up by quality cornerbacks. If his route running improves he could be a huge difference maker in 2012 though, particularly if Manuel starts to read defenses better and quicker.

Nick O’Leary, TE**- O’Leary is just a true sophomore but he flashed some serious potential as a freshman last season en route to a 12 catch, 164 yard, 1 touchdown season as a true freshman. He may not have had eye-popping numbers, but the 6’4”, 240 pound tight end is ready to break out this year. He has good hands, runs good routes and is probably the best tight end FSU has had on its roster in years. I’m not sure how good of a blocker he is, but as a receiver he is likely to be targeted much more frequently than he was last season and should start to garner a lot of national attention soon. He’s a very good tight end prospect, so keep an eye on him.

Bjoern Werner, DE*- Werner is one of the top defensive ends in the country and could be a part of one of the best pass rushing draft classes in recent memory. Werner is listed at 6’4”, 272 pounds and in 13 starts last season he had 37 tackles, 4 TFL, 7 sacks, 8 pass break-ups, 1 interception, 1 fumble forced and 1 fumble that he returned 25 yards for a touchdown. Werner is the top prospect on FSU’s loaded roster which says a lot about him. He is only a true junior and yet he has played in every game over his first two years with the Seminoles. He has tons of potential thanks to his fantastic strength, work ethic and motor. He made huge strides as a sophomore despite it being his fourth year of football and he may be saving his best for last as a junior. He is still raw and is just scratching the surface of his potential, and I think he has the makings of a top 10 pick come April. Defensive ends with Werner’s skill set are exceedingly rare, and combining that with a fierce work ethic and motor often ends in good or great NFL careers. That is what I anticipate from Werner, and I dare you to ignore him when you watch Florida State’s defense this year. It’s nearly impossible.

Brandon Jenkins, DE- Jenkins is certainly the more well-known pass rusher on Florida State’s defense, but Werner is the superior prospect thanks to his size and strength. Jenkins has worked hard to add muscle to his frame, as he is currently listed at 6’3”, 260 pounds and was only about 240 when he broke out as a true sophomore. His stats may have slipped last season as he “only” had 41 tackles, 4 TFL, 8 sacks and 1 pass break-up, but that was largely due to an increase in attention from opposing offenses in the way of double teams and screens to his side of the field. The attention offenses gave to Jenkins certainly played a role in Werner’s break-out, but both are potential 1st round picks in their own right. Having that much talent at defensive end plus Tank Carradine, who would start on 95% of college football’s defensive lines but comes off the bench at Florida State, makes Florida State’s defensive line incredibly fierce even without considering the talent they have at defensive tackle. It will be interesting to see if Jenkins is actually playing at 260, my guess it he is in the 250-255 range. He might be able to get away with that at right end in the NFL, especially if he holds up against the run better as he showed the ability to do last year, but the best use of all of his athleticism might be at 3-4 outside linebacker. Regardless, he has all the burst, explosion and athletic ability you could ever want in a pass rusher, and with an 8-10 sack season this year he will likely go in the top 32 selections in April.

Tank Carradine, DE- Carradine is the odd man out on Florida State’s depth chart but he undoubtedly has a NFL future. Carradine is listed at 6’5”, 264 pounds and is extremely strong and projects very well to the strong side end in a 4-3 defense in my opinion. Last year was his first with the Seminoles and many didn’t expect him to contribute a lot but he shocked them all. He finished with 38 tackles, 2.5 TFL, and 5.5 sacks after committing to FSU out of junior college. Carradine doesn’t have the elite burst off the snap and doesn’t have Jenkins’ edge speed but he closes like a missile and his strength is on the same level as Werner’s. He was extremely impressive for a player new to the program last year and should be even better this year. I don’t think FSU will have 3 first round picks at defensive end, but if Carradine surprises people again and has a great season despite the team trying to divide limited snaps between three stud defensive ends then it wouldn’t be completely outlandish even in a draft class with so much pass rushing talent. I really like what Carradine brings to the table and I can’t wait to see how he does this year even if he isn’t starting for FSU.

Timmy Jernigan, DT**- Jernigan has the most upside of any of the defensive tackles in my opinion, and he showed a lot of it as a true freshman. The 6’3”, 301 pound defensive tackle accounted for 30 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, and 1 fumble recovery. That’s an amazing year for a freshman defensive tackle, and it’s really raised expectations for him as a sophomore. This is a talented defensive line though, one of the two best in the country along with LSU in my opinion, and that means there won’t be an abundance of tackles for loss and sacks just floating around. Jernigan will still earn his keep though thanks to his fantastic blend of quickness, athleticism and strength. It was noted that one of his weaknesses is that he can be put on skates by a pair of quality offensive linemen double teaming him, but if that’s one of the only issues you can find with the game of a true freshman defensive tackle then you have stumbled on to a future top 10 pick in the making in my opinion. He’s got incredible upside and as long as he continues to work and progress he should end up as a top 15 pick one day.

Anthony McCloud, DT- McCloud is essentially the antithesis of Jernigan. He’s listed at 6’2”, 312 pounds and while he doesn’t have Jernigan’s freakish athleticism he does a fantastic job plugging up the middle of the field from the nose tackle position. He is squatty, strong and incredibly hard to move off the ball even with a double team. He may not offer the pass rush or backfield disruption of a player like Jernigan, but considering how trendy the 3-4 defense has become in the NFL space-eaters like Jernigan that simply occupy blockers and clog the A gaps in the middle of the defense are still incredibly valuable. He’s assignment reliable, he doesn’t get moved off the ball and he’s a team player. That sounds like he a top 100 lock in the NFL draft to me, especially if he continues to impress versus the run as a senior.

Everett Dawkins, DT- Dawkins flies under the radar on Florida State because he is literally surrounded with NFL talent in every direction. Jenkins, Werner, Carradine and Jernigan were all in the limelight last season, and Dawkins just went about his business on his way to a ho-hum 25 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 sack, 3 pass break-up, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble season. For most starting defensive tackles this would be a “meh” season, and statistically perhaps it is. But when your top three defensive ends combine for 20.5 sacks there just aren’t a ton of sacks to go around for your defensive tackles (FSU had “just” 6.5 between Dawkins, McCloud and Jernigan). Dawkins is listed at 6’2”, 301 pounds and is reliable against the run and the pass. He’s tough to move in the run game, he has great burst and acceleration and I think his statistics mask how much NFL ability he has. He’s playing on an incredibly talented defensive line which will make some teams wonder how good he really is, but he’s a top 100 pick without a doubt in my mind and should prove as much during the season and hopefully at the Senior Bowl.

Vince Williams, MLB- Williams is the starting MLB heading into the season despite some significant opposition from Telvin Smith, a 6’3”, 210 pound junior. Williams had a good season last year as he totaled 54 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, and 1 interception. Williams is a good run defender but there are questions about how good he is versus the pass. I don’t know that much about him to be honest, but he played a key role in the FSU run defense being as good as it was (opponents averaged just 2.3 yards per carry against the ‘Noles, and only Wake Forest and Miami averaged over 3 yards per carry against them last season). He’s a reliable tackler and he may not be a freak athlete, but he knows his responsibilities and he sticks to them. He’s probably not going to be a high draft pick, but there are certainly worse middle linebackers starting around the ACC and the country.

Telvin Smith, MLB*- Smith attempted to challenge and overtake Williams, but he wasn’t able to do so from what I understand. He’s listed at 6’3”, 210 pounds and from what I understand he is the better coverage linebacker and makes more flashy plays than Williams does. That was partially evidenced by his stat-line as he totaled 42 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 pass break-ups, 1 interception and 1 forced fumble as a sophomore. He probably has more upside than Williams, but for now Williams is the starter even if Smith is still rotated in. He will almost certainly be the starter as a senior in 2013.

Christian Jones, OLB*- Jones is a stud outside linebacker, there’s no other way to say it. He may not be quite where you want to be as far as the mental aspect of the game is concerned, but he has all the size and athletic ability you could ever want in an outside linebacker. He’s listed at 6’4”, 237 pounds and has the speed and change of direction to cover any tight end and even slot receivers at times. He’s a ferocious hitter and while his stats may not jump off the page (56 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 pass break-ups) he absolutely has 1st round upside and the 2012 season may be the year he really starts to reach it. He’s a freak athlete and could even consider bulking up and playing 3-4 outside linebacker if he wanted to. He’s that caliber of athlete.

Xavier Rhodes, CB*- Rhodes really caught my eye as a redshirt freshman and he did it again last year when I was watching FSU against Notre Dame and he was doing a good job 1 on 1 against Michael Floyd who went #13 overall in the NFL Draft this past year to the Arizona Cardinals. Rhodes has fantastic size for a corner and is listed at 6’2”, 209 pounds, has the speed to turn and run with most any receiver, and has very long arms which help him at the line of scrimmage as well as in coverage when he tries to make plays on the ball. He’s got a ton of ability, impressive instincts and great ball skills and even though he didn’t have a great season last year (according to Tomahawk Nation there were rumors of attitude and work ethic problems with Rhodes after his terrific freshman year, which is a bit of a red flag) he still had 43 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception. That was a bit of a disappointment after he had 4 interceptions as a freshman, but now that he is back for his junior season and his third year as a starter (he returns with 25 career starts) he has a chance to get back to freshman form and show evaluators the potential top 15 pick we all saw two years ago.

Lamarcus Joyner, SS*- I am a BIG Joyner fan. He may be undersized for the safety position at 5’8”, 193 pounds but he is a fantastic player. He has fantastic instincts which is probably my favorite part of his game, but the fact that he has incredible range, legitimate 4.4 speed, long arms, great ball skills and closes like a heat-seeking missile sure doesn’t hurt either. Did I mention he packs a whallop as a hitter, averaged 30.5 yards per kick return and is one of the emotional leaders of the defense? Oh, and had 54 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 3 pass break-ups and 4 interceptions as a sophomore? He is my #1 draft eligible safety and it’s not even close. He is a 1st round lock if he continues to play anything like he did last season even in spite of his height. If he holds up from a durability stand-point the only knock close-minded analysts will be able to find on him is his lack of height. Joyner is the caliber of player that USC fans and the national media tried to hype Taylor Mays up to be except that Joyner is vastly better despite being about 5-6 inches shorter. Give me Joyner in my secondary literally any day of the week, he is the rare safety that makes the entire rest of the defense better because of his range and playmaking ability, and that’s why I would pick him in the top 20 (maybe even higher, though I want to see him as a second year starter before I go that far) without a second thought.

Dustin Hopkins, K- Hopkins rounds out this absolutely insane list of NFL Draft prospects and hopefuls. He is a good kicker who hasn’t been automatic or completely clutch, but he has reliable. He was 1st team all ACC last year as he made all 44 of his extra point attempts and made 22 of his 27 field goals with a long of 53 (though he was 1/3 from 50+). He drives the ball very well on kick-offs and certainly contributes to Florida State having as good of a kick-off coverage team as they do. I’m not sure if he will be drafted, but he could very well end up in the 5th-7th round conversation.