Tag Archive: Robert Woods


NFL Quick Hits

This is a feature I’m going to try every week where I post some hopefully brief thoughts on the past weekend of NFL games. I don’t know if I’ll have time to do the same with College Football games, but I will post them if I have time to write them all up. Hopefully you guys enjoy this segment.

1- The Falcons Are Who We Thought They Were- I’m sure most of you guys know I’m a Falcons fan by now, and that loss to the Saints was tough. The Falcons scored on their opening drives in both halves, but otherwise were very inconsistent on offense. I’m wondering why they ran the ball so infrequently despite Steven Jackson having solid success on the ground, and I’m also wondering how they managed to hold Drew Brees and the Saints to 23 points despite a lackluster pass rush. I’m not too worried about the offensive line yet, I think they will gel and become a stronger unit, but the amount of pressure in Matt Ryan’s face and the inexplicable avoidance of the run game and quick-hitting pass game to try to counter the pressure was frustrating. Brees was on point as always and I was impressed with the Saints dramatic improvement on defense. Rob Ryan has done a great job with them up to this point, and the pressure they got on Ryan and the looks they were showing him pre-snap stuck out to me. The Falcons will be fine, but I don’t think they are a 13-3 team like they were a year ago. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think they are in the 10-6/11-5 area. We shall see.

2- Peyton Manning Needs To Stop Playing On Rookie- The way Manning was playing on Thursday night it is evident to me he was just playing Madden on a rookie setting, and a veteran with his resume should be playing on All-Madden at least, and preferably with a number of the sliders raised manually beyond that. Manning was obviously masterful, and that was despite having no running backs with a yard per carry average over 3.8 and only gaining 65 total yards on the ground. Joe Flacco came down to Earth after his fantastic playoff performances and it’s clear to me that he is missing Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta right now. Torrey Smith is a stud, but he can only do so much without a significant threat to take some pressure off of him. Dallas Clark surprised me with 7 catches for 87 yards, and if he can keep that up the loss of Pitta shouldn’t be quite as significant. I am a huge Demaryius Thomas fan and had a top 20 grade on him out of Georgia Tech and he has completely lived up to my expectations for him. I definitely expected Decker to be the #2 guy and Welker to be the 3rd option, but if the first week is any indication then Welker is going to get a lot of love from Manning this year. I don’t think 2 catches for 32 yards will be a typical week for Decker by any means, but I think I definitely underrated Welker’s potential impact coming into the year. I was also blown away by how well Duke Ihenacho and Shaun Phillips played. I liked Ihenacho out of San Jose State but realized some of his athletic limitations, however he had 12 tackles (including ELEVEN solo stops), 1 tackle for loss and 3 pass deflections as well as some pretty nice hits in this game. Phillips had 2.5 sacks and 3 QB hits on the night and definitely helped make up for the absence of Von Miller for at least one night. The Broncos looked like they were in mid-season form, but I don’t think the Ravens are going to have that much trouble on offense or defense for the entire season. They have lots of new faces on their roster and they need time to gel, and Manning took full advantage. Don’t hit the panic button yet Ravens fans.

3- EJ Manuel Is Making Me Look Stupid- I was pretty clear that I was not a fan of EJ Manuel at FSU and while it is still very early in his career my analysis of him is looking quite foolish right now. I have been very impressed with how Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have managed Manuel starting from his first pre-season snaps. They haven’t asked him to go out there and be Tom Brady, but much like Cam Newton his rookie season they will likely open up the playbook and let him attack more as he becomes more comfortable. I was happy to see Robert Woods get his first NFL catch and his first NFL touchdown, but Manuel got to see first hand that there’s almost nobody better than Tom Brady when the game is on the line. He may not have had a great day statistically, but when it counted he took the Pats down the field and got them in position to win the game. Danny Amendola predictably had a good game, I loved what Shane Vereen did and I was very sad to see that he is going to miss significant time due to a broken wrist (which he apparently suffered on the first play of the game!). I am hoping that Spiller was given limited touches because of his lost fumble, and not because he is inexplicably being mismanaged again in 2013. Regardless, Bills fans should be very encouraged by the early returns on EJ Manuel.

4- “Same Old Bungles”- That is for my good friend Ryan Koons who is now an active duty marine. He is a die hard Bengals fan and whenever they manage to lose a game like this that is what he would always say. I have to say I really thought those days were behind Cincinnati because on paper I thought they were ready to win the AFC North. However, Andy Dalton continues to make me wonder about just how far the Bengals can go with him as a quarterback even in spite of the absolutely fantastic play of AJ Green. The Bengals have tons of talent on defense, they’ve got weapons on offense, but if they are going to win close games and go deep in the playoffs they need Dalton to play better and limit his turnovers. The run game deserves some ire as well as the Bengals only averaged 3 yards per touch and totaled 63 yards on the ground. On the other side I thought Jay Cutler, overall, had a good game and Brandon Marshall was fantastic. The Bears running game was sluggish as well, and hopefully that offensive line will slowly gel and improve over the course of the season. I know that probably makes Bears fans nervous because they’ve been waiting for that offensive front to improve for years, but I’m hoping this is the year for their sake.

5- Reggie Bush Is Dangerous, Christian Ponder Is Not- The Lions put up 38 points on the Vikings defense and a lot of that is due to Reggie Bush totaling 90 yards on the ground (4.3 ypc) and 101 yards and one touchdown as a receiver (with a long of 77). That’s very impressive production, and it comes despite only hauling in four of his eight targets on the day. Matt Stafford had another high attempt, high yardage day and while it wasn’t the most efficient performance it certainly got the job done. I wouldn’t expect too many four catch, 37 yard days for Calvin Johnson, but Bush, Nate Burleson and Joique Bell took the pressure off of him this week. On the other side Christian Ponder continues to prove his doubters right as he threw 3 interceptions, got sacked three times and lost a fumble on the day. He also spoiled a fantastic game for Jerome Simpson who had 7 catches and 140 yards which I certainly didn’t expect from him. Adrian Peterson had a 78 yard touchdown run on his first carry but gained only 15 additional yards on his next 17 carries, but still managed 93 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well as 18 yards and another touchdown receiving. I will be the first to admit that I liked Ponder out of FSU (clearly I’m 0/2 on scouting Florida State quarterbacks right now) but he doesn’t have the same velocity he had prior to the injuries he sustained his senior year, he isn’t making good decisions and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt Cassel start at some point this season for the Vikings. That’s not a good sign, and it likely means the Vikings will be looking to draft a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL Draft. I have been patient with Ponder and he occasionally shows signs of life, but unfortunately now that he’s in his 3rd year these kinds of struggles won’t be tolerated anymore. He’s got to step up his game and quick.

6- Pryor Makes Oakland Offense Almost Competent- I really feel like I am ruining any credibility I have as a quarterback scout but I liked Tyler Wilson a lot out of Arkansas and I didn’t like Terrelle Pryor out of Ohio State, but I am glad the Raiders elected to start Pryor over Matt Flynn. Pryor’s legs gave the Raiders life in this game and while I don’t think it will get them to the playoffs it should make them more competitive than they would have been with Flynn at the helm. I didn’t get to see as much of this game as I wanted to because the feed went out for it multiple times at the bar I was watching the games at (for some reason it was streaming online, not sure why), so outside of Pryor impressing me as a runner and Andrew Luck being a stud I don’t have too many thoughts on this game. Sorry guys.

7- Nolan Nawrocki Your Crow Is Ready- I know it’s early, and I know it’s only his first start, but it was fun to see Geno Smith rally the Jets to an unlikely win against Tampa Bay week one. I’m not going to say he made some unbelievable plays on that final drive to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, but if Sanchez was the QB on that final drive I don’t think the Jets would have won that game. Smith isn’t known for his scrambling, but his athleticism was obvious at the NFL combine and he gave the Jets a chance to get lucky thanks to his skill set. He wasn’t mind-blowingly efficient by any means, but it was definitely a solid first start based on what I was able to see. Unfortunately for Bucs fans Josh Freeman struggled (though the Jets do still have a good, well-coached defense) and despite 154 yards from Vincent Jackson he only managed 210 yards on 31 attempts, was sacked three times and threw one touchdown and one interception. I wasn’t a Freeman fan coming out and his first season it really looked like he might make me eat my words, but he seemed to plateau after that rookie season and hasn’t quite been the same since.

8- Kaepernick Is The Truth- I wasn’t wild about Kaepernick’s throwing motion or accuracy coming out of Nevada, but Jim Harbaugh has done a fantastic job with him and that offense is now tailor made for him. It certainly helps having weapons like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis (even though Davis had a drop or two that he shouldn’t have) while Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are injured, but his athleticism, pure arm strength and seemingly improving accuracy really stood out to me against the Packers. Green Bay had absolutely no answer for the Kaepernick-Boldin connection and while they managed to keep him bottled up as a runner he shredded them for 412 yards and three touchdowns as a passer. The Packers will have to go back to the drawing board now to try to figure out how to slow Kaepernick down if they meet again in the playoffs. I thought Aaron Rodgers was great as usual even if he did come up just short, I still love Randall Cobb, and I was happy Jermichael Finley bounced back from that drop that led to Rodgers only interception with some solid catches, good yards after the catch and that impressive touchdown. The Packers should be fine and I think they will be a playoff team, but I’m sure they and their fans are annoyed that another referee controversy led to a do-over for the 49ers that led to an Anquan Boldin touchdown. Maybe I’m alone here, but I think the NFL downgrading Bill Leavy for that mistake is ridiculous. Leavy is a veteran official and while he made a mistake this just reeks of an overreaction to me.

9- RGIII Was Rusty, The Eagles Offense Wasn’t- The Eagles defense made this interesting in the second half as RGIII and the Redskins started to knock some of the rust off, but in the first half RGIII had a lot of issues fading away from throws and not stepping into his passes. He still did some of that in the 2nd half, but he was definitely much more crisp and effective once his receivers stopped dropping passes and Kyle Shanahan adjusted to get him into a rhythm with quicker, easier throws. Michael Vick was impressive, though he’s still the same Michael Vick that will hold onto the ball too long and take unnecessary risks with his body at times. LeSean McCoy looks like an ideal fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme and he should have a huge year. I was also happy to see that one of my favorites from a couple years ago Mychal Kendricks looked much better (based on what I saw live) and was pressuring RGIII pretty consistently. I’m not sure he’s great in coverage, but it was fun to see him rushing some of Griffin’s throws. Additionally, that interception Cary Williams made on that out route that Griffin threw was nothing short of fantastic. What a terrific play.

10- Oh Philip Rivers, You Poor Bastard- Rivers was absolutely fantastic in the 1st half and he started off the 2nd half in the same fashion. He had the Chargers up 28-7 and seemed poised for a statement victory in week one of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, much like he and the Bolts have in the past, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Rivers and the offense began to sputter, the Texans woke up on offense, and the rally was complete once Brian Cushing read Rivers’ eyes beautifully and made a diving interception that he then returned for a game-tying touchdown. The Texans would go on to move the ball down the field and position Randy Bullock for a game winning 41 yard field goal. Andre Johnson continued to show why he is one of the best in the game with a 12 reception, 146 yard performance, Owen Daniels chipped in 67 yards and two touchdowns, and Deandre Hopkins added five receptions and 66 yards. I thought Arian Foster seemed determined to make a big play all game and didn’t seem focused on doing the little things. He was palming the ball and holding it away from his body, he dropped multiple catchable balls, and almost seemed to be showing off and looking to make someone look foolish. Maybe that’s just me over-extrapolating, but he seemed off tonight. I’d be surprised if Gary Kubiak doesn’t talk to him about how he’s holding the ball after he and the other coaches watch film.

Alright, so that was a LOT less brief than I expected it to be. I guess I had more to say than I anticipated, though I shouldn’t really be surprised since I am so long winded anyway. Sorry that was such a long post, hopefully you enjoyed it anyway!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

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

QBs:

Geno Smith, West Virginia
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

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

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

RBs:

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

Honorable mention: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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

WRs

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

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

TEs

Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Justice Cunningham, South Carolina

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

OTs

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

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

OGs

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

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

Cs

Barrett Jones, Alabama

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

DEs

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

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

DTs

Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Jesse Williams, Alabama

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

OLBs

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

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

ILBs

Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Kiko Alonso, Oregon

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

CBs

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

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

Safeties

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

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

McNeal emerged and was the unsung hero of USC’s dominant offensive attack over the last half of the season. This year he is the incumbent starter and figures to turn even more heads in 2012.

Size: McNeal is listed at 5’7”, 182 pounds and while he might look like an undersized back, and to an extent he is, he has the leg strength to gain tough yards after contact and he does a good job of keeping his pads low and really packs a punch when he initiates contact because of his low pad level. His size isn’t elite by any means, and it may keep him from being a true feature back, but if he can get up to 190 pounds without losing speed I think he could be a very effective NFL back.

Speed: McNeal has very impressive speed. I think he might be a 4.45 guy or faster, which is impressive and necessary to compensate for his lack of size. He has the speed to consistently get the edge, though USC rarely tested that speed and usually ran him between the tackles. He did show the ability to bounce runs outside and get the corner, and he has the straight-line speed to break off big play touchdown runs. His speed is definitely one of his strongest assets.

Quickness: McNeal also has impressive quickness, especially when making cuts and changing direction. It makes him difficult to tackle for a loss, it makes him a significant threat in the open field, and it helps him hit the hole quickly once it forms. His quickness is impressive, and it makes him a potentially very good fit in a “one cut and run” system that many teams incorporate.

Running Inside: McNeal spent much more time running inside than you might think for a back his size. After Marc Tyler was injured and struggled to be effective USC began to rely on McNeal more and more as the season went on, essentially replacing Tyler with McNeal in his exact role. The difference was, McNeal could get to holes faster than Tyler did, got through them faster than Tyler did, and got chunks of yardage as well as some very big touchdown runs that Tyler couldn’t have made. Tyler was relegated to more of a power-back, short-yardage role because of McNeal’s effectiveness and that had a lot to do with McNeal’s ability to find cut-back lanes inside, set up his blocks patiently, and hit holes once they presented themselves. McNeal was running similar plays to what Tyler was, he was just producing more significant yardage when given those carries. McNeal’s size may make people doubt that he can run inside, but there were only two instances where I didn’t see him fall forward for additional yardage at the end of tough runs. On top of that, he has impressive leg drive that helps him gain tough yardage after initial contact, and regularly gained additional yardage after a defender got his hands on him. His quickness and his leg strength helps him run through arm tackles, but he has also shown the ability to take huge hits and maintain his balance which is very impressive. When he can plant and go he really picks up a head of steam and actually injured a player or two trying to tackle him heads up because he generates such significant pop on contact due to his leg strength, speed and low pad level. McNeal is an effective inside runner, and that should open up the possibility of being the #2 back in a balanced backfield in the NFL, if not being a feature back.

Running Outside: McNeal has the ability to do this, as his patient running style allows his blocks to set and his ability to plant, make one cut and go means defenses can’t overpursue or he will find a cut-back lane and make them pay. It will be interesting to see if USC runs more power, off tackle and toss plays next year, because when they did run power and off-tackle plays McNeal was very successful because of his speed (though, on a couple of his big runs, Matt Kalil essentially blocked two people and sealed off a 3rd when they ran off tackle). McNeal is an effective outside runner but also effective at finding cut-back lanes, so as he gets more carries as a senior he should prove to be an effective outside runner.

Receiving: McNeal hasn’t been used often as a receiver, but I didn’t see him drop a pass in any of the games I watched even as he became an ever more integral cog in the USC offensive attack. He catches the ball with his hands effectively, looks the ball in, and is obviously dangerous after the catch because of his speed, quickness and ability to use his blocks effectively. I don’t think he will ever be split out a lot and probably won’t run a lot of intermediate/deep routes, but he is reliable catching the ball out of the backfield on short passes at least.

Blocking: McNeal’s size is a hindrance to him as a blocker, but he did a surprisingly good job at it considering his limited playing experience at that point. I think his ability to pass block made it easier and easier for Lane Kiffin to trust him as the feature back as the season went on, and likely played as much of a role in him getting the majority of the carries as his ability to gain quality yards running and catching the ball out of the backfield. McNeal isn’t an elite pass blocker, and he probably never will be because of his size, but he consistently made the right blitz pick-up, squared him up and popped him. He doesn’t do a very good job of sustaining since almost all of the defenders he is picking up in pass protection are bigger and sometimes stronger than him, but he slows them up before he releases to the flat or cut-blocks them and takes them out of the play completely. McNeal showed an impressive cut-block multiple times, which is great to see because of his lack of great size. Not only that, he even showed that he could make a cut-block to save Barkley’s skin, and then got up and released and caught a check-down from him. McNeal isn’t a great pass blocker, but he is pretty reliable given his stature.

Vision: McNeal’s vision is pretty good, but I want to see more from him in this area. Now that he is likely to be the feature back all season we should get a better look at this, but at times there were great run lanes for him to run through and those were often his best runs (as you would expect) but he did show the ability to find cut back lanes and showed good enough vision for me to give him a positive grade in this area. But now that he’s the feature back we should get a much better feel for it, though he has consistently shown a patient running style and an impressive ability to use his blockers at the line of scrimmage or downfield.

Carrying: This is one place where McNeal worries me a little bit, but it is correctable obviously. McNeal had a couple key fumbles last year, including one in overtime against Stanford that ultimately lost USC the game. He regularly only has one hand on the ball when contact is imminent, and the safest way to prevent fumbling is to get into the habit of covering up the ball when contact is coming. He doesn’t do that right now, and not surprisingly it has led to a couple of unfortunate fumbles. If he learns to do this (and I would imagine he will, Kiffin has benched multiple backs for fumble issues in the past two years) then it will alleviate many of my fumbling concerns. It isn’t a huge problem, but you’d hate to sully a good or great game with an untimely fumble at the end like McNeal did versus Stanford last season.

Injuries: McNeal got knocked out of the game once or maybe twice because of particularly hard hits last season, but he returned each time and continued to be effective. He has proven to be pretty durable, but carrying the load as one of the only proven backs on USC’s offense for an entire season will be a lot different than emerging as the best back and having a starring role for the last 6 games. His durability will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses because as the season wore on last year I was wondering if he lost a little bit of his impressive burst and straight-line speed. If he wears down over the course of the season USC’s rushing attack could have similar problems to the beginning of the 2011 season, when McNeal was not getting consistent carries.

Character: McNeal’s emergence was delayed partially because of the coaching staff preferring Marc Tyler’s experience and partially because McNeal was academically ineligible for the 2010 season, delaying his possible emergence to 2011. He was not utilized very much prior to that, so his limited touches did not give Kiffin and the offensive staff any reason to start him over Tyler. That led to an ineffective running game before McNeal seized his chance after Tyler’s injury and eventually became the go-to guy. He has since dedicated himself to his studies and obviously was eligible last year, but it is worth noting that he had an issue with that in the past. Beyond that, I have very little insight into McNeal’s character.

Overall: McNeal definitely has draftable ability, it is only a question of how high he is selected. At this point, I think he is one of the top returning senior running backs and should open even more eyes as his role is expanded during the 2012 season on a very high-octane offense thanks to Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and two very talented sophomore tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble. McNeal won’t face a lot of defenses that dare to put more than 7 men in the box, and if they do Barkley and company should make them pay. McNeal is set to have a complete break-out season this year, though his true break-out was last season when he carried the ball 24 times for 118 yards against Notre Dame. He would finish only two games with under 100 yards after that, totaling 87 and 94 yards in those two contests. He has possible sub 4.45 speed, impressive quickness, burst and acceleration and enough vision to find cut-back lanes when defenses overpursue. Despite his lack of size, he has strong legs and uses that to run through arm tackles and to gain tough yardage after contact, even injuring a player or two because of the impressive pop he creates after contact. He has flashed the ability to catch the ball effectively out of the backfield as well as pass block despite his lack of size and bulk. He has shown that he has the tools to be a complete back despite his size and figures to be a key cog in USC’s offensive machine again this year, much like he was in the last 6-8 games last year. I think he will open a lot of eyes as the season goes on, but I am a McNeal fan and have been since I was begging Kiffin to give him more carries after I watched him play Syracuse and Arizona last year (he had 5 carries for 79 yards vs. Syracuse and 7 carries for 74 yards vs. Arizona). The next 7 games he had four 100 yard games and 6 touchdowns, with 86, 87 and 94 yards in each of the three games he didn’t exceed 100 yards. He averaged 6.93 yards per carry, among the best of the country, and proved to me that he has the ability to be a complete back at the college and potentially at the NFL level. I look forward to watching him play for a full season as the returning starter.

Projection: 3rd round. It’s tough to project him much higher because he has only had significant work for less than one whole season, and his size, fumbling and durability questions will certainly warrant further consideration. But he’s a complete back than can run effectively, catch effectively, and pass block better than you would expect given his size. He has NFL caliber talent, but he isn’t going to be a 1st round pick.
Thanks for reading, hopefully you have enjoyed these four initial Pre-Season Scouting reports. There is more to come, but first I will be posting an interview with new USC left tackle Aundrey Walker tomorrow, and a Logan Thomas Pre-Season report sometime after that.

–Tom

Robert Woods is going to be at the top of many WR rankings this year, and for good reason. He’s one of the most NFL ready receivers in the country.

Size: Doesn’t have great size, but he is listed at 6’1”, 184 pounds. He could stand to add some weight, but he doesn’t look skinny to me on film. Adding some size and strength might help him beat more physical corners at the line, and he might struggle less with physicality from the defense in general.

Speed: Woods clearly has impressive speed. I don’t think he’s a 4.4 flat guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was timed in the 4.45-4.47 range. He has good burst off the ball and accelerates to his top speed quickly, allowing him to beat defenders in 1 on 1 coverage when he is given the opportunity. He’s not easy to overthrow deep, but it happens at times. Woods is also dangerous after the catch because of his speed, and because of his ability to gain yards after the catch he is used on returns as well as on offense. He often demands a safety over the top, making life easier for the other superstar wide receiver on the Trojans, Marqise Lee.

Quickness: Woods has impressive quickness as well. He changes directions quickly, and his quickness is always on display when he is running his routes. His change of direction speed and his burst make him ideal for quick screens and passes in the flat where he can make a man miss and pick up additional yardage. His quickness certainly informs his route running, and he definitely does a good job getting in and out of his breaks.

Release: Woods has a good release when he is allowed to get off the line of scrimmage without a challenge from the corner, but when he is engaged by a strong, physical corner he can have trouble getting off the line of scrimmage. He needs to get stronger, work on beating the jam and being physical once he is healthy, because it is one of the only things holding him back from being a truly complete, elite receiver prospect. USC moves him around constantly, playing him in the slot, in the backfield, and bringing him in motion frequently to try to help him avoid jams, but to be a top WR prospect he will need to learn how to beat the jam consistently.

Route Running: Woods’ route running has been great since he was a freshman, so it’s no surprise that he continues to run very good routes. This is one of Woods’ strengths without a doubt, and it helps him create consistent separation versus man coverage. He has a good feel for zone coverage as well and knows where to sit to give Barkley a target to throw to, and usually is on the same page with Barkley when running option routes and looking for back shoulder throw opportunities. As he continues to learn more and more about reading coverages pre and post snap I think he will become very dangerous on back-shoulder throws, but he still has room for improvement there.

Hands: Woods hands are very good, but when I was watching him last year he seemed to have one drop a game that he should have come down with. I’m not sure if they were concentration issues or not, but that is my best guess having watched over half of his 2011 games. He clearly has NFL caliber hands and catches the ball very cleanly outside of his frame. He rarely body catches and regularly makes impressive diving catches to bail out a less than stellar throw from Barkley. He can catch passes that are low, high, outside and he holds onto passes once he catches them even if there is contact immediately after he makes the reception. He will be able to go over the middle in the NFL, especially once he puts a little more weight on to help improve his durability. He can make the tough catches look easy, but he needs to make sure he eliminates the easy drops this upcoming season.

Body Control: Woods has pretty good body control, but I’m not ready to say he is good or great in this area yet. He shows the ability to make tough adjustments to the ball in the air, but while he came close to a lot of big plays on underthrown balls or passes thrown too far inside when they should have been outside, he didn’t often come down with them. Also, there were a number of times when he had a chance for a touchdown or a big play on the sideline but he didn’t quite get his feet in-bounds, resulting in an incompletion instead of a game-changing play. He can certainly improve this, he just needs to drill it, but he isn’t there yet in this aspect. I want to see him make those game-changing plays on difficult deep balls and catches near the sideline that he didn’t quite make last season. He has the tools and the ability to do it, he just needs to keep working at it.

In Traffic: Woods is a reliable receiver in traffic and because he can snag passes outside of his frame he gives Barkley a big target radius to throw to even though he isn’t much taller than 6’0”. Like Marqise Lee, he plays bigger than his actual listed size and that has something to do with his catch radius as well as his athleticism to track down poorly thrown balls with a quick adjustment on a ball thrown too far forward or too far behind or a diving catch when he is in full stride. He isn’t afraid to go over the middle and I don’t think I ever saw him make a catch in traffic and drop it as a result of contact, and there were plenty of instances where that could have happened. Once Woods catches that ball the only time it’s going to hit the ground is after he’s tackled and the ball gets placed between the hashes for another snap.

YAC: This is one of Woods’ best characteristics. Woods does a great job setting up and using his blockers both as a return man and as a receiver on screens or just running after the catch in general. He has impressive vision and while it can be risky, he knows when to cut back against the grain and when to forge ahead and get the tough yards. He can be physical as well, fighting for tough yards after contact is made, but is at his best when he can make defenders miss in the open field due to his stop/start ability and his impressive acceleration. It does concern me a little bit that he tends to run out of bounds at the end of plays instead of fighting for additional yardage, but some of that may have been a result of being banged up towards the end of the season. That’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on during his junior campaign.

Blocking: Woods isn’t a great blocker, but the effort is certainly there and once he gets stronger I think he will continue to improve in this area. He never got called for a hold in all of the games I watched, so that is certainly a plus, and there were a number of plays where his block downfield helped spring a big run for Curtis McNeal. He gives good effort and is certainly willing to block, plus he has some nastiness to him and really likes to blindside pursuing defenders, not unlike Hines Ward. I love to see that, and he got a couple really good licks on bigger defenders doing that as a sophomore.

Overall: Woods is at the top of my list of wide receivers right up there with Keenan Allen. I’ve been a huge fan of both since I watched them play as freshman and it’s going to be difficult to pick one over the other at any point. Woods is a complete receiver that catches the ball well, runs impressive routes, is dangerous after the catch, adds value as a return man and shows good effort as a blocker. Not only that, but he is a team player. According to an ESPN broadcast, Kiffin called Woods after a tough game where he was relatively ineffective because of injury and wanted to make sure he wasn’t down on himself. Woods told Kiffin that he didn’t care how many passes he caught because the team won. That’s the kind of receiver you want to have in your locker room. Right now he just needs to get stronger, work on beating jams at the line of scrimmage, clean up some of his easier drops and work on making tough catches deep and along the sideline. Those might seem like small critiques, and that’s because for the most part they are. Woods is a NFL ready receiver and should be a popular player come April if he can overcome some of the durability concerns that have been popping up recently. An injury is the only way Woods will be consistently stopped, though he could stand to improve against more physical defensive play. I’m very high on Woods and I am excited to watch him continue to progress as a junior, and I would be very surprised if he didn’t declare after this season.

Projection: Top 10. I don’t want to go much further than that, but Woods certainly has the skill set and NFL talent to go this high. I don’t think he is a franchise caliber receiver like Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss in his prime or Andre Johnson, but I think he has the potential to be a #1 wide receiver. If not, he is going to be an absolutely lethal #2.

Thanks for reading! Scouting reports on Khaled Holmes and Curtis McNeal will be up soon!

–Tom

Barkley was once considered the favorite to be the #1 overall pick, but after extensive study I don’t see any way that will happen.

Size: Barkley is listed at 6’2”, 220 pounds but that is probably a little generous. He is probably closer to 6’1” if I had to guess. While he certainly isn’t skinny, Barkley won’t be mistaken by anyone for a quarterback with elite size.

Arm Strength: Barkley’s arm strength is something plenty of talent evaluators are going to disagree on. He clearly doesn’t have “elite” arm strength, and I would even hesitate to describe his arm strength as “good”. If I had to put a label on it I would call his arm strength “above-average.” He has enough arm strength to play in the NFL, but he can’t make every throw with appropriate velocity, especially on throws outside the numbers. He struggles to make throws from the opposite hash to the far sideline as his passes tend to have a little air under them, which will allow NFL caliber corners and safeties to make plays on those passes. Lane Kiffin and USC clearly realize Barkley’s arm strength is not what makes him a good or great quarterback, and use plenty of short passes, bootlegs and screens to highlight Barkley’s abilities. His arm strength translates much better on throws down the middle as his velocity is better. He can make intermediate throws 15-20 yards downfield down the middle, and can put enough velocity on 10 yard curls to complete them at the next level. He can throw the deep ball as well, though his passes have plenty of air under them. He often only connects on deep passes when he quickly reads single coverage for either Robert Woods or Marqise Lee and throws the deep ball with plenty of air under it so they can run under it. What is troubling is that even though he doesn’t have good or great arm strength he doesn’t consistently throw deep passes in stride; some will be accurate, in stride catches, but plenty are either overthrown by a couple yards or underthrown, requiring the receiver to make a difficult adjustment to catch the ball. Luckily for Barkley, Woods and Lee are two of the best in the country at making these adjustments, so his deep ball statistics may be deceiving. It was also interesting to evaluate Barkley in a collapsing pocket or with defenders bearing down on him. He doesn’t have the arm strength to make intermediate throws off of his back foot with quality velocity, and doesn’t spin the ball as cleanly off of his back foot. However, he flashes enough accuracy to make a NFL throw if the player is wide open in the intermediate range where his lack of arm strength wouldn’t be a significant problem. Barkley’s arm strength may not be elite, but he may have just enough to be a NFL starter. However, he is somewhat reliant on a clean pocket to succeed, as he doesn’t have the arm to get quality velocity without stepping into his throws. Unfortunately, his overall his arm strength will limit what his NFL offensive coordinator will be able to do schematically.

Accuracy: Barkley’s accuracy is definitely one of his strengths, but I don’t think it is elite or great either. His accuracy on short and intermediate routes is consistent, but like any quarterback he has his misses. He consistently throws passes in stride and to the correct shoulder of the receiver, which allows Woods and Lee to take advantage of yards after catch opportunities. He also has pretty good accuracy when throwing off his back foot in the face of pressure. However, his ball placement isn’t elite, it just looks like it sometimes because his receivers both catch the ball so well outside of their frames. His ball placement on deep passes and fade routes leaves something to be desired. His deep passes are routinely either underthrown or overthrown, leaving his receivers attempting difficult adjustments on short throws and diving (often unsuccessfully) to get a hand on overthrows. Obviously deep passes are the most difficult to complete, but I worry about how often he will be able to complete these passes at the next level if he is struggling to complete them with two clearly NFL caliber receivers at USC.

Mechanics: Barkley’s mechanics are another one of his strengths. I wouldn’t call them elite, but they are certainly very good. He has a quick, efficient release with little wasted movement that allows him to get the ball out quickly in the face of pressure. His release point isn’t elite due to his size, but he has an over the top release that projects well to the NFL. Barkley’s footwork has improved significantly since he has been at USC, and at this point I would say he has very good footwork. He flashes very impressive footwork in the pocket side-stepping the rush, climbing the pocket, and buying time without leaving the pocket. However, at times he will throw off his back foot unnecessarily, which negatively impacts his pass velocity and how cleanly he spins the ball. He has plenty of experience under center and in shotgun, and his footwork on his drop-backs are quick and clean. His mechanics are well polished, which is to be expected considering he is a 4th year senior who is returning for his 4th full year as the starting quarterback for USC.

Athleticism: Barkley doesn’t have game-breaking athleticism but he is certainly athletic enough to avoid pressure in the pocket, scramble outside to buy more time, and pick up yardage if the defense takes away his passing options and there is some open field in front of him. He won’t be making highlight reel runs, but he isn’t a poor athlete by any means.

Pre/Post-Snap Reads: Pre-snap reads are one of Barkley’s strengths. He has a lot of experience as a starting quarterback so he has obviously seen a lot of different blitz packages, coverages, and defensive alignments, both pre and post snap. He frequently makes adjustments at the line of scrimmage and has good enough awareness to make a quick throw when corners are playing with big cushion even if he has a run play called. Barkley’s anticipation also may be his most elite characteristic as he frequently throws receivers open by releasing the ball as they are making their breaks. He might be the best in the country when it comes to making throws with that kind of anticipation. However, despite his great anticipation, I’m not convinced that he is elite when going through his progressions and reading the defense. Too many times he throws passes against quality 1 on 1 or double coverage for me to be convinced of that. He doesn’t panic under pressure which is good, and he certainly has shown that he will scan the field from left to right and vice versa when given the opportunity to do so, but he also has a tendency to lock onto Woods or Lee at times. That allows defenders to key on those throws and make plays on the ball. So while I love his pre-snap reads and his anticipation I still have some issues with his post-snap reads due to forced throws into coverage as well as his habit of locking onto his primary receiver a little too often. And while I realize this often has to do with play design, there are way too many times Barkley locks on to a receiver in the flat or a running back on a swing pass and doesn’t even scan the field, tosses an easy throw to them, and either gets free yardage or a tackle for loss. They aren’t NFL throws, aren’t even close to NFL reads, and they don’t translate to the NFL at all. I don’t know why the play design would require him to throw to the flat as his primary read, but if that’s the play design then his offense isn’t preparing him as well for the NFL as many might assume.

Decision Making: Barkley’s decision making has certainly improved a lot since his freshman year, but it still has room for improvement in my opinion. He still forces throws against good coverage when he should look elsewhere or check down too much for my liking. Not only that, at times he makes throws that he can get away with in college but in the NFL they could easily be incompletions or interceptions. Even some big downfield plays that he got were a result of his receivers bailing him out with great plays on underthrown passes. Every quarterback needs that at times, so I realize I am being a little harsh, but it is more of a pattern with Barkley than you would like from a franchise caliber quarterback and potential top 5 pick. His interceptions also dropped this year as he set a career high for touchdowns, so I realize I am getting picky here, but he is not an elite decision maker yet despite his very impressive statistics last year.

Intangibles: Barkley has impressive intangibles without a doubt. He was named a captain of USC’s football team as a sophomore, the first time that has ever happened as far as I know, and he was USC’s starting quarterback as a freshman, another first for the prestigious program. He is clearly the leader of the team and he showed a lot of leadership by coming back for his senior year to try to lead his team to a BCS Bowl Game and potentially a National Championship. He has also matured enough to not let interceptions noticeably rattle him, and he has shown that he can bounce back from turnovers and still make good throws. Additionally, there may not be a quarterback in the country who does a better job keeping defenses off balance with his cadence before the snap. Without fail Barkley gets defenders to either jump offsides or jump and recover, multiple times a game. That is a sign of his veteran experience as well as his football IQ. However, I don’t think Barkley is a “franchise” quarterback. I don’t think he elevates the play of the players around him, I think his performance has a lot to do with the talent around him. While he has improved both as a leader and as a player over the past three years, the caliber of players around him on offense was very impressive this year (save for a couple spots on the offensive line) and he had his best season. I’m not implying he is simply a product of his supporting cast, but it certainly has an impact. Barkley also has a pretty impressive football IQ, though I’m not ready to call it elite due to some of the issues I have mentioned previously.

Character: Barkley is a very good football player as well as a very good person, and is well known for his charity work off the field. He’s an easy kid to root for on the field and off of it, and you love to see that.

Overall: I have been a Matt Barkley fan since he walked onto campus at USC and began competing for the starting job. He may not have elite size or arm strength, but he’s a quality player and a quality person. Unfortunately, I don’t love him as much as a NFL prospect as I had previously expected, and I don’t see any way he will end up being the #1 overall pick come next April. Even with a terrific senior season he won’t improve his stock significantly unless he shows improved decision making, better accuracy on deep passes, and better production when throwing from a collapsing pocket and off of his back foot when under pressure. That may not sound fair, but NFL teams don’t make draft picks based on fairness. He is a very polished player, which is certainly a positive, but the downside is he doesn’t have a lot of mystery to his game and what you see is more than likely what you are going to get at the next level, even if he continues to improve a bit as a senior. His arm strength isn’t going to go from above-average to great between now and the draft, his accuracy isn’t likely to go from good to elite by April, and he probably won’t grow a couple inches to alleviate concerns about his height in the next 10 months. He’s a good college quarterback, but I don’t think he will ever be much more than a solid NFL starter due to his arm strength limitations. His accuracy and anticipation will give him a chance to start at the next level, but he is not a franchise quarterback and should not be a top 5 or 10 pick in my opinion.

Projection: Late 1st, Early 2nd. It doesn’t feel right to put him this low, but right now I can’t say he’s a top 10 pick. I just don’t think he has the raw talent to be a great NFL starter, and may have a similar career arc to Mark Sanchez. He has a better football IQ, and I don’t think players will have issues following him like some of his teammates seem to be having with Sanchez, but I think he will need a strong run game and defense to go deep into the playoffs much like Sanchez has.
Thanks for reading! I’ll have scouting reports up on Robert Woods, Khaled Holmes and Curtis McNeal shortly.

–Tom

Quarterback Rankings:

1-      Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal

2-      Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee*

3-      Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas

4-      Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech*

5-      Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

6-      Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia*

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

8-      Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State

9-      Casey Pachall, QB, TCU*

10-   Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma

Running Back Rankings:

1-      Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina*

2-      Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin

3-      Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas*

4-      Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State*

5-      Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina*

6-      Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh

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

8-      Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama*

9-      Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson

10-   Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas

Wide Receiver Rankings:

1-      Robert Woods, WR, Southern Cal*

2-      Keenan Allen, WR, California*

3-      Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee*

4-      Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State*

5-      Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee*

6-      Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas

7-      Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor

8-      Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

9-      Aaron Mellette, WR, Elon

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

1-      Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame*

2-      Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State

3-      Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA

4-      Philip Lutzenkirchen, TE, Auburn

5-      Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford*

6-      Michael Williams, TE, Alabama

7-      Jordan Reed, TE, Florida*

8-      Ryan Griffin, TE, Connecticut

9-      Colter Phillips, TE, Virginia

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

1-      Chris Faulk, OT, LSU*

2-      Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M*

3-      Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

4-      D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama*

5-      Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan*

6-      Oday Aboushi, OT, Virginia

7-      Alex Hurst, OT, LSU

8-      Justin Pugh, OT, Syracuse

9-      Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M*

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

1-      Barrett Jones, OG, Alabama

2-      Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

3-      Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

4-      Travis Frederick, OG, Wisconsin*

5-      Alvin Bailey, OG, Arkansas*

6-      Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky

7-      Omoregie Uzzi, OG, Georgia Tech

8-      Braden Hansen, OG, BYU

9-      Blaize Foltz, OG, TCU

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

1-      Khaled Holmes, C, Southern Cal

2-      Graham Pocic, C, Illinois

3-      Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas*

4-      James Ferentz, C, Iowa

5-      Mario Benavides, C, Louisville

6-      Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson

7-      Matt Stankiewitch, C, Penn State

8-      Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia

9-      Braxton Cave, C, Notre Dame

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

1-      Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU*

2-      Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas*

3-      Alex Okafor, DE, Texas

4-      Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State*

5-      Margus Hunt, DE, SMU

6-      Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

7-      Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina

8-      Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon

9-      James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech*

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

1-      Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

2-      Johnathon Hankins, DT, Ohio State*

3-      Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama

4-      Bennie Logan, DT, LSU*

5-      Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

6-      Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

7-      Johnathan Jenkins, DT, Georgia

8-      Akeem Spence, DT, Illinois*

9-      Shariff Floyd, DT, Florida*

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

1-      Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame

2-      Shayne Skov, ILB, Stanford

3-      Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina

4-      Michael Mauti, ILB, Penn State

5-      Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama

6-      Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State

7-      Jonathan Brown, ILB, Illinois*

8-      Bruce Taylor, ILB, Virginia Tech

9-      Jonathan Bostic, ILB, Florida

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

1-      Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia*

2-      Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU*

3-      Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M

4-      Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State

5-      C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama*

6-      Gerald Hodges, OLB, Penn State

7-      Jelani Jenkins, OLB, Florida*

8-      Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford

9-      Khaseem Green, OLB, Rutgers

10-   Kenny Tate, OLB, Maryland
Cornerback Rankings:

1-      David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State*

2-      Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State*

3-      Jonathan Banks, CB, Mississippi State

4-      Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU*

5-      Jonny Adams, CB, Michigan State

6-      Nickell Robey, CB, Southern Cal*

7-      Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas*

8-      Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State

9-      Micah Hyde, CB, Iowa

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

1-      Eric Reid, FS, LSU*

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

3-      Kenny Vaccaro, SS, Texas

4-      Robert Lester, FS, Alabama

5-      Tony Jefferson, FS, Oklahoma*

6-      Bacarri Rambo, SS, Georgia

7-      Ray Ray Armstrong, SS, Miami

8-      John Boyett, SS, Oregon

9-      Matt Elam, SS, Florida*

10-   Vaughn Telemaque, FS, Miami

Matt Barkley has decided to return for his senior season at USC. I like this decision and I am excited to see him play for one more year, but there will be a lot of pressure on him to be great.

I may have told some of you that I had a hunch that Barkley would come back for his senior season. It didn’t always seem particularly likely, but I had a feeling he might. He seems like the kind of guy who wants to win and wasn’t just in college to help him make it to the NFL. It seems that is the case after all as Barkley announced at 4 pm ET live on ESPN that he would be returning to USC for his senior season. He stated that he felt the 2012 Trojan squad had “serious unfinished business” and made it clear that his goal was to return to USC to try to lead them to a Rose Bowl or perhaps even a BCS National Championship. That will be a tall order, but Barkley returns to a team loaded with talent especially on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line is the only potential question mark, but he has two future first round picks at wide receiver in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee plus an emerging star at running back in Curtis McNeal. I am very much looking forward to watching him for his senior season, and I’m kind of glad he decided to come back. It is worth noting that he is losing star left tackle Matt Kalil, so the offensive line will need some tweaking. I think he had more to gain from coming back for his senior year than Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones do. Luck has made it clear he is leaving, but Griffin and Jones have not made their decisions public yet. Personally, I would be surprised if both didn’t declare considering Griffin has become the clear #2 quarterback due to Barkley’s absence and Landry Jones’ stock has moved up as well due to the lack of 1st round talent at QB this year outside of Luck, Barkley and Griffin.

Now, I like the decision Barkley has made, but it’s not a perfect one. He is opening himself up to a lot of risk. He could get injured, he could have a down season, and even if neither one happens he is opening himself up to a boatload of nit-picking criticism because media pundits and draft evaluators have an extra year to evaluate him to try to figure out every aspect of his game. I think the decision makes a lot of sense, but the attention he will have on him may end up being comparable to what Luck endured this season. He isn’t quite the prospect that Luck is, but he is going to be the consensus #1 pick for the 2013 NFL Draft now. That means a lot of attention for everything he does. I think he is probably ready for that, but it’s still a lot of pressure on a pretty young kid.

I think it will work out for the best though and I think Barkley will help lead USC to the Pac-12 Title Game and a possible Rose Bowl berth. I’m not sure I’d bet on them for the National Championship game, but anything is possible. Regardless of how USC finishes the season it would be foolish to bet against them going to a bowl game for the first time since Barkley’s freshman year considering all the talent they are returning. I for one can’t wait to see them play next year.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Vanderbilt-Kentucky:

-Jordan Rodgers has helped revitalize Vanderbilt’s season and in his fourth consecutive start he has Vanderbilt within one game of bowl eligibility. He’s very athletic, has some arm talent, but is still improving and developing as a quarterback. He isn’t on the same level as his brother, but it is worth watching what he can do in the SEC both this year and next. He’s got some weapons on offense in Zac Stacy at RB plus Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd at WR. Matthews and Boyd are both 6’3″ plus, and as Rodgers continues to develop and gain experience I think he might make Vanderbilt a potentially fun offense to watch next year. Rodgers will be a senior in his first full season as a starter next year, Stacy will be a senior, Matthews will be a junior and Boyd will be a sophomore. They’ve got some intriguing pieces on offense, let’s hope this isn’t just a teaser and that they actually take the next step next year. I for one will be rooting for them to do so.
-Zac Stacy had another big day for Vanderbilt. I’ll need to watch him more because he has had a productive season this year. He now has 891 yards and 9 TD’s on the season as well as 16 receptions for 78 yards. I would expect him to exceed 1,000 yards rushing either this upcoming week or next, and if he is able to do then Vanderbilt has a solid shot at a bowl game. He’s their workhorse, and without him I don’t think Vanderbilt’s offense would be nearly as productive as they have been recently. I haven’t scouted him yet, but I will get to it soon when I watch Rodgers just to get a baseline idea of what he can do.
-I’m not sure anyone has enjoyed Rodgers’ presence at the quarterback position more than Jordan Matthews. He had his 3rd consecutive 100+ yard game after totaling just 8 receptions, 107 yards and 1 TD in the first six games he played in (he missed the game against Alabama). It has been a totally different story the last three weeks as he has produced 21 receptions, 452 yards and three touchdowns (one in each of the last three games). He’s been super productive and has helped open up Vanderbilt’s offense. Can’t wait to watch some of these recent games to see what he can do.

Baylor-Kansas:

-Robert Griffin had a very slow start, and while I didn’t see the game and I can’t speculate on how it happened, it certainly seemed like he carried Baylor back into the game and ultimately won it in overtime today against Kansas. I was wondering why he was struggling so much against such a seemingly bad Kansas squad, but he really rallied Baylor late in the game and helped erase a 21 point 4th quarter deficit. They scored three touchdowns in the quarter (all by Griffin, 1 rushing TD and 2 passing TD’s), forced overtime and Kansas went for a two point conversion and failed, resulting in a one point win for Baylor. I’ll definitely be watching this game later, because I have been wondering if Griffin had the ability to lead his team to a comeback win like this for a while. It was against a bad Kansas team, but it is still more than I have seen from him before. Obviously my thoughts on this game will be posted on my blog once I have a chance to break it down at a later date.

Georgia-Auburn:

-Aaron Murray is a guy I’ve been impressed with since he was a freshman. It feels like he’s been leading Georgia forever, but he is still only a sophomore. Still, he seems more mature than your average sophomore and is without a doubt the leader of Georgia’s football team. He had one of the best games of his career today when he went 14/18 for 224 yards and 4 touchdowns while adding 21 yards rushing. He was making plenty of stick throws and was placing the ball perfectly today. It was fun to watch him play this well.
-Jarvis Jones is an animal. I don’t have a lot of defensive players in this list because it’s tough to find stats for defenders the day of the game, but Jones warrants mention. I’m not sure what his final statistics were in this game, but I know he had at least one sack because I saw it. He has 9 sacks on the season I believe and an unreal 16 tackles for loss. He’s been fantastic for Georgia, and has incredible upside. It’s going to be fun to watch him develop. He’s only a sophomore, but he has had an absolute break-out season this year. He’s listed at 6’3″, 241 pounds and looks skinny on film. He has plenty of room to add weight, and I would be surprised if he wasn’t 250+ next year as a junior for Georgia.

TCU-Boise State:

-I definitely kept an eye on this game not only because there were plenty of prospects to see, but because these two teams always seem to play each-other pretty tough. TCU played them tough again today and unfortunately it came down to another field goal attempt and Boise State couldn’t capitalize on it. Must be frustrating for Boise and their fans, but yet again they won’t get a shot at an elite bowl game. I hate to say it, but I have been one of their detractors who said that if they were in a better conference they wouldn’t always be undefeated. They aren’t exactly changing my mind by losing to Nevada last year and TCU this year.
-Kellen Moore is a good QB, but I question his ability to be a NFL starter. His arm strength is an issue, but that can be improved up and overcome at least to a degree. It’s definitely worrisome that he doesn’t throw a great deep ball because of his lack of arm strength and he doesn’t have good zip on intermediate or longer throws. He’s an accurate quarterback though, he’s very intelligent and he has tons of starting experience as a four year starter. I think he can stick in the NFL, I just don’t think his combination of size and arm strength give him a lot of upside as a potential NFL starter. I do think he will make a roster and be quality back-up that might eventually get his shot, but I think he is a developmental guy that will get drafted in the 4th round range. One thing that bothered me about him today was his issues handling pressure that TCU was bringing. He isn’t used to getting hit, and when TCU was able to pressure him, hit him and sack him he seemed rattled and was missing some throws that he usually makes. He obviously rebounded in the second half, but I thought that was worth noting.

Wisconsin-Minnesota:

-Russell Wilson was the epitome of efficiency and Montee Ball broke the Big 10 single season touchdown record with three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) today against Minnesota. He has an unreal 27 touchdowns on the season now. He has 1,232 yards, 23 rushing touchdowns and 14 catches, 234 yards and 4 touchdowns on the season. Definitely a fantastic year, and they still have two games left against Illinois and Penn State (I have a ticket to the Penn State game, very excited for that). Russell Wilson literally threw one incompletion today, and threw for 178 yards and 4 touchdowns.
-Nick Toon showed up big for Wisconsin today, but I am a little concerned that he all but disappeared in Wisconsin’s big games against Michigan State and Ohio State with a combined 5 catches for 97 total yards and 0 TD’s in those games. His only 100 yard games have been against the likes of South Dakota and now Minnesota, two teams with vastly less talent than Wisconsin. To be fair to Toon, who I think has NFL upside, he did have 4 catches, 94 yards and 1 TD against Nebraska which was Wisconsin’s first big game of the year. However, it is a bit concerning that he didn’t step up in much closer games later in the year, but is showing up against less significant opposition like he has.

USC-Washington:

-Matt Barkley continues to play well and I have to say he made Steve Sarkisian look pretty smart for saying he’d draft Barkley over Andrew Luck considering Luck’s relative struggles against Oregon tonight (to be covered later in this post) as well as Barkley’s quality season this year. He seems to have gotten better every week, which makes me think that the chances of him declaring early might be increasing. Regardless, still fun to see him play well because I have been high on him since he was a freshman.
-If you read my blog consistently you may remember me saying that I don’t know why Curtis McNeal isn’t getting more touches for USC a few weeks ago. Well recently he has been, and he has been playing fantastic. He has exceeded 100 yards rushing in three of the last four games, and has exceeded 85 yards rushing in each of the last five. Last week against Colorado he sat most of the second half, but in the first half he had 10 carries for 87 yards. Against Washington today he had 18 carries for 148 yards and another touchdown. Keep feeding McNeal USC, he’s got tons of ability. Looking forward to seeing him continue to grow and develop.
-Robert Woods and Marqise Lee are still beasts. Really fun to watch them play. People are really underestimating how significant Lee’s emergence has been for Woods. If Lee wasn’t playing this well as a freshman then Woods would be getting doubled and USC’s passing attack would be significantly impaired. It’s fun to watch these guys when Barkley has time to get them the ball.

Arkansas-Tennessee:

-Tyler Wilson continues to have a very good season for Arkansas. He’s flying a little under the radar, but he has played very well. He has 2,850 yards passing, 18 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions on the season after the game against Tennessee today. He has NFL upside, but I don’t think I will put a first round grade on him assuming he comes back for his senior year next year. I’d place him in the 2nd round conversation because he has upside, but needs to work on some things. Doesn’t always spin a clean ball, doesn’t have a rocket arm (though replacing Mallett would make anyone’s arm strength look inferior) but has quality accuracy.
-Dennis Johnson has been very strong the last four weeks and is showing Arkansas fans what might have been if he hadn’t gotten hurt and allowed Knile Davis to become the staple of their running game last season. He has filled in pretty well, and is one of the more underrated running backs in the SEC.
-Jarius Wright continues his fantastic season. He has the potential to end up in the 1st round, he has had a terrific year this year. He has 53 catches, 906 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games now. He is their go-to guy on offense.

Virginia-Duke:

-I didn’t get to see this game since it wasn’t on in my area, but Chase Minnifield, a cornerback on Virginia that I am very high on, had his 3rd interception of the season (13th of his career) and returned it for his first career defensive touchdown. I’m high on him and I look forward to getting to watch him more often.

Oregon-Stanford:

-This was supposed to be the game of the night but Oregon definitely surprised me and played much better than I expected them to. They were in control of this game after the 1st quarter, and they just had way too much speed and athletic ability on offense for Stanford.
-Andrew Luck played well in my opinion, but made a few mistakes and was flustered at times. He threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown and struggled to make plays downfield due to his lack of talent available to him at wide receiver. He still played a good game, but even Luck couldn’t find a way to win this one. His team was overmatched talent wise, especially at wide receiver and cornerback. Luck looked human in this game, but he is still a very good quarterback. He responds very well to adversity and was simply trying to make a play with his back against the wall when he threw his pick 6. It’s unfortunate how it played out for him, but he’s still a lock for the #1 overall pick in my opinion.
-Darron Thomas threw the ball as well as I have ever seen him throw it in this game. He would miss a throw every once in a while, but he was throwing darts all over the field and made some legitimate NFL throws in this game. Makes me wonder where this has been all season, because he looked like a completely different quarterback in this game. I didn’t even see him throw the ball like this last year when he led Oregon to the National Championship game against LSU.
-LaMichael James continues to play well, and it is very reassuring to see him healthy even if he has to play with that big pad on his right arm. He’s very explosive, agile and is stronger with better leg drive than he has had in previous years. I still have a 2nd round grade on him, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to hold up as a feature back in the NFL.
-Chase Thomas, an outside linebacker on Stanford, had a horrible game today in my opinion. He was taken out of the passing game by Darrion Weems, the senior Left Tackle on Oregon, and struggled mightily against the zone read that Oregon runs so well. He consistently collapsed on the running back instead of staying disciplined and making sure Thomas didn’t pull it and run. Instead, Thomas was able to keep it and scamper for significant rushing yardage a number of times and each time it was Thomas who let him break contain. Definitely a disappointing game for Thomas.

Arizona State-Washington State:

-It is fitting that this was the last game on tonight as well as the last game in this post because in my opinion it was the best game of the night. I completely expected Arizona State to win, but Washington State pulled off the upset thanks to two unreal individual performances.
-Connor Halliday is a freshman quarterback that has played in only three games in his college football career. I’m not even sure that he started this game for Washington State since I started watching after it had already started, but that doesn’t take away from what he was able to do. Halliday, a 6’4″, 180 pound freshman went 27/36 for 494 yards and 4 touchdowns and led the Cougars to an upset of Arizona State. He wasn’t just checking down and hitting drag routes for lots of YAC either, Halliday was making stick throw after stick throw and he was doing it under pressure, on 3rd down, it didn’t seem to matter. When he was threatening to take the lead he threw a strike to the end zone and it was dropped. Then it was 3rd and long, his RT jumped for a false start penalty. Now it was 3rd and longer and what does he do? Deliver another strike to the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the game to take the lead. Halliday played a fantastic game and while he doesn’t have perfect mechanics, a rocket arm or perfect accuracy he certainly has good arm strength, accuracy and shockingly good pocket poise for a freshman. The amount of poise it took to go toe to toe with Arizona State’s potent offense led by a quarterback in Brock Osweiler that has legitimate 1st round talent in his first significant playing time in his college career is inconceivable. He played a fantastic game, and was honestly the most impressive player that I watched today. That’s how good he was.
-Marquess Wilson was Halliday’s favorite target today as he accumulated 8 receptions, 223 yards and 3 touchdowns. He had an absolutely unreal game today, and while I had heard of him before as one of the best receivers in the Pac-12 I didn’t really think he was on the same level as Robert Woods and Keenan Allen but after seeing him tonight I think he is worthy of being mentioned as one of the best young receivers in the Pac-12. This was the first I’d ever seen him, but he had an absolutely fantastic game. He made a number of tough catches and obviously came up big when his team needed him to, and he helped make Connor Halliday look like a 4th year starter who had led 10 4th quarter comebacks in his career tonight.
-Brock Osweiler was impressive as well, though his performance will likely be lost in the shuffle because of Connor Halliday’s emergence and because he ultimately won the game. However, Osweiler still went 28/44 for 351 yards and 1 touchdown in this game despite an anemic running game that mustered just 60 yards on 24 carries. Osweiler would have had even more yards if his receivers hadn’t dropped a few catchable balls (particularly one by #13 that absolutely changed the game. He dropped a ball right on the money in a hole in the zone on 3rd and goal that would have been a TD, Arizona State then attempted a field goal and missed it, giving Washington State control). However, he was making some very impressive NFL throws. He was putting touch on passes to get the ball over the linebacker and in front of the safety down the seam and behind the corner, in front of the safety down the sideline. He made stick throw after stick throw in the 2nd half to lead his team to touchdown drives to try to stick with Washington State’s suddenly potent offense. I was very impressed even though he had a couple questionable decisions, but he played very well and deserves props for that. I’m still very high on him for the 2013 NFL Draft.
-Gerell Robinson had a huge game for Arizona State. He had 8 receptions, 158 yards and 1 TD tonight, and when I was watching I didn’t see him drop any passes he should have caught.

I know it was a long post, but hopefully you appreciated some of my thoughts on the afternoon and evening games. Thanks for reading!

–Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tom

Will West Virginia's coaching drama distract the team? Or will it provide motivation to keep everyone together?

16. West Virginia- I have West Virginia pretty high even in spite of all the problems they have been having. Sometimes those can be distractions, but other times they can provide you with a chance to escape from the off field circus and focus on football. I think it is easier to do this when you have an established coach who has weathered the storm before instead of a new guy (whose hiring started the whole fiasco in the first place), but I won’t write them off yet. They have a lot of talent, headlined by Geno Smith at quarterback (who some have mentioned as a Heisman candidate) and they have a lot of pass rushing potential on their defensive line, which makes every defense better. They might not win the Big East, but you have to remember… it’s the Big East. Anyone can win the Big East.

17. USC- Southern Cal is loaded with talent as usual, and even if they can’t go to a bowl game this year (which I think is stupid, for the record. Punishing kids who didn’t do anything wrong, at least for what they are being punished for, is wrong. And upholding it for two years instead of letting these guys play in a bowl game if they earn it… I can’t get behind that) they should be dangerous. I don’t think they have it in them to win the Pac-12 because Oregon and Stanford are both great teams, but they will definitely make it interesting. Matt Barkley is ready for a break-out season I believe and he has so much talent around him. I am one of the biggest Robert Woods fans in the world I think, because it just baffles me how he can be so good at running routes, have such great hands and just overall be so polished and impressive at receiver as a freshman. It blows my mind. Their defense was a problem for them last year, so it will be interesting to see if their pass rush gets ramped up (it should, Nick Perry has been ready to blow up for two years now) because without a pass rush their defense just doesn’t function correctly. I like USC’s chances this year, and that just makes it all the more unfortunate that they can’t play in a bowl game.

Bryn Renner is in charge of running the Tar Heels offense now, but he shouldn't have a ton of pressure on him thanks to the Tar Heels' talented defense.

18. North Carolina- North Carolina is one of the most talented teams in the country, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but between suspensions and poor coaching (at times in my opinion) they don’t seem to live up to their potential. Now they have a new QB in Bryn Rynner, a guy who almost took the starting job from T.J. Yates last spring as a freshman, but he should have some talent to work with. Not a lot of dynamic talent at RB, but he has quality receivers to throw to plus an extremely talented defense that should help keep points off the board. Quentin Coples, Donte Paige-Moss and Zach Brown are all very good players with lots of upside, and I’m sure more will emerge over the course of the year.

19. Texas A&M- With Ryan Tannehill, Cyrus Gray and Jeff Fuller on offense the Aggies are going to be potent on that side of the ball, especially if Tannehill can continue to progress at the same rate he did when he took over for Jerrod Johnson last year when he led the Aggies on a late season tear culminating in a bowl game loss to LSU. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, steps up to try to replace Von Miller’s substantial impact as a pass rusher for the Aggies.

Aaron Murray (left) and Orson Charles (right) were lethal last year, and with one more year of experience together they should be even more lethal this year.

20. Georgia- Georgia is a bit of a sleeper this year, though they were a bit more formidable before they lost both Washaun Ealey AND Caleb King (Ealey transferred to Jacksonville State and Caleb King declared for the NFL Supplemental Draft after being declared academically ineligible for the 2011 season). Now their rushing attack relies on a freshman. He might be an incredibly talented freshman, but he is a freshman none-the-less so you never know exactly how he will transition, plus that is a lot of pressure to put on an 18 or 19 year old kid. However, Aaron Murray, Orson Charles and Tavarres King should help take some of the pressure off of him, and if he can give the running game a boost Georgia’s offense could be relatively formidable. Their defense is a question mark after losing sack artist Justin Houston and middle linebacker Akeem Dent but I am very high on Christian Robinson (his replacement at MLB), I like Brandon Boykin and they have a fierce SS in Bacarri Rambo. Cornelius Washington will probably be the one expected to step up and replace Justin Houston at 3-4 OLB and nickel defensive end, and while he had limited production last year he is only a junior this year and he has some edge speed, so I am looking forward to seeing how he develops.

Hopefully you are enjoying my rankings so far! I’ll have the top 15 teams coming right up in the next couple of days, so keep an eye out! Thanks for reading!

–Tom