Tag Archive: Southern Cal


**These are not ranked in any particular order**

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia-

Smith started the season out at an RGIII like pace, but as the season continued his play became more inconsistent and more frustrating. I still think he is the odds on favorite to be the top QB selected, but his issues staring down his primary receiver, throwing with inconsistent footwork and not stepping into all of his throws have been fairly well documented. He has good NFL size, arm strength, impressive accuracy and pocket poise, but he wasn’t as consistent as you would like over the course of the season and even as a fan of his he left something to be desired fairly regularly as the season went on. It’s hard for me to label him as a franchise QB given some of the question marks that surround him this year, but I think he has that upside. I have heard a couple different things about his intangibles so I would love to be a fly on the wall for his interviews with NFL teams. Alas, that isn’t likely to happen, so I’ll just have to keep my ear to the ground to try to get more details about his work ethic (which I have heard is very good) and his leadership capability. He’s still my #1 QB, but like every QB in this class he is not without flaws.

Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas-

Tyler Wilson and the entire Arkansas team had a very, very underwhelming season and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) Arkansas’ season is over. Wilson is still a first round pick if you ask me, because outside of Cobi Hamilton and Dennis Johnson he did not have much in the way of help this season. I’m sure some will argue that he was boosted by his supporting cast last season, but if his play was elevated by it last year it was dragged down by his cast this season. Outside of Cobi Hamilton no wide receiver was a consistent threat, and Knile Davis was not his regular self for almost the entire year. Dennis Johnson stepped up to fill the void when they gave him the opportunity, but even with his “emergence” (some of us already knew he could play) Wilson was under near constant pressure because of his terrible offensive line. He has a bit of a gunslinger mentality that some will like and some won’t, and he isn’t a perfect prospect by any means either. But I love his intangibles and leadership capability and I think he has more than enough arm talent to be a quality NFL starter. I think he still ends up in the top 15 after the draft process runs its course and teams get to interview him. Someone will fall in love with him (if not multiple QB needy teams) and they’ll make an effort to go get him.

Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State-

Glennon is a guy I just recently caught up on and I have to say I was impressed. We all knew he had the size and arm strength to play in the NFL, but his accuracy is better than it was last season during his first season as a starter and he throws a great deep ball. He flashes the ability to feel the pressure and step up in the pocket, though he does consistently hold onto the ball too long and doesn’t always read blitzes well pre-snap. My big problem with Glennon is that he needs functional space around him, a clean pocket, or room around him when he is throwing on the run to be good and sometimes even great. His issues become evident in muddied pockets or with pressure closing in after which his mechanics break down, he fades away from throws and his accuracy suffers as a result. He has the natural arm strength to get away with some of these throws, and consistently throws accurately on short throws even with pressure in his face (particularly on drag routes) but his drop off in accuracy and decision making is definitely concerning to me. I’ve seen him stand in and make one great throw with a defender in his face in the three 2012 games I’ve watched of him so far, but my impression is that seeing him do that is a rarity. If you draft him and you protect him I think you will be able to win games with him and go to the playoffs, but when the protection breaks down and he has to make big time throws in muddied pockets I think he will struggle. He’s only in his second season as a starter so perhaps he can continue to make strides in this area (Matt Ryan has had issues with this as well) but right now I would have reservations about taking him in the top 40 picks, though I do think he will end up in the 2nd round. I have a 3rd round grade on him at this point in the draft process after watching more of his 2012 games. Previously I had a 4th round grade on him. I look forward to seeing him in person at the Senior Bowl.

Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal-

Barkley came back for his senior season expecting to make a serious run at the National Championship, the Heisman trophy and at the #1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Having just finished watching his team lose to Notre Dame without him (while his understudy Max Wittek made some freshman mistakes along with some very impressive throws in his first career start) it’s safe to say Barkley isn’t anywhere close to the BCS title game, the Heisman or to going #1 overall. I personally don’t think he will be the 1st or 2nd QB selected, but he does have a good chance to be the #3 QB selected in a class that has really underwhelmed all year long. My friend and colleague Eric Stoner (@ECStoner) pointed out something that had been previously overlooked with Barkley- aside from his fantastic finish to the season last year, he was largely what he was this season his entire career. I had never thought of it that way, but that sums it up pretty perfectly- He kind of had a Mark Sanchez rise at the end of last season and he never really sustained that level of play even with the herculean effort of Marqise Lee over the course of the year. My thoughts on him haven’t changed since the beginning of the season- he seems to be elevated by the talent around him, he doesn’t have the arm strength to put appropriate NFL velocity on some intermediate throws, his deep balls hang in the air, and he threw a mind-blowing number of short/behind the line of scrimmage passes this season as a result of all of this. He might still go in the 1st round, but there will be plenty of people making arguments for him to fall out of the top 32 selections and it’s hard to make a great argument that they’re wrong at this point. I have been on the Barkley bandwagon since he was a freshman and I hate to sound like I’m throwing him under the bus since I have been advocating him to be a starter since before his freshman year and you could tell he had a NFL future early on in his career. But he doesn’t have a lot of upside left and his lack of good/great arm strength is going to hurt him at the next level. I think he will get a shot to be a NFL starter, but I’m not convinced that he will be a quality NFL starter at this point and I wouldn’t be very comfortable drafting him as my definite QB of the future as much as it hurts me to say it.

Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee-

Bray is pretty much the polar opposite of Barkley in my opinion. He is 6’5”, skinny with lots of room to grow, has Jay Cutler-esque arm talent and unfortunately Jay Cutler-esque mechanics/decision making. He is a very talented kid with the ability to make any NFL throw even off of his back foot and that talent allows him to get away with poor footwork and weight transfer very frequently which is really too bad. He needs to be drafted by a team with a QB or QB coach that will mentor him and push him to improve his mechanics because they are a huge part of what is holding him back from reaching his immense potential. He is a frustrating kid to evaluate for this reason, and without being able to talk to his coaches, teammates and Bray himself it’s hard to evaluate how hard he is willing to work to improve his deficiencies, and I haven’t heard great things about his work ethic or intangibles thus far. NFL teams won’t like that, but there is going to be some NFL team that falls in love with his God-given talent that drafts him in the 2nd round if not higher. I liked Bray a lot coming into the season, but he didn’t progress like I hoped he might and his shortcomings were pretty obvious when you paid attention to him. I’m not sure if he will declare or not, it depends quite a bit on who Tennessee hires to replace Dooley if you ask me, but I think he is more likely to leave than he is to stay. He’s not ready to walk in and be a NFL starter in my opinion, but his raw upside gives him a chance at sneaking into the 1st round. Personally I would not want to tie my franchise to him right now, and I think the ideal situation for him would be to go to a team with an established veteran QB that can show him the ropes for a couple years, not unlike Ryan Mallett with the Patriots. I don’t know if Bray will be as lucky as Mallett was though.

Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma-

I have been underwhelmed by Jones for quite some time and despite a couple late wins this season that has not changed. I don’t think he’s a NFL starter and that stems from his lack of poise under pressure, less than ideal velocity on his passes, and the fact that I think he is elevated by the talent around him versus making everyone around him better. Because draftniks and likely scouts have been down on him so long I think it’s possible that some will start to proclaim he is underrated but I don’t buy that logic. He looked like a fourth round pick and a NFL back-up last year and his play this season hasn’t changed my mind about that. I haven’t studied him specifically this year, but nothing I’ve seen of him live has made me say “wow, I was wrong about him!” If anything it has reaffirmed that he’s good enough to get drafted, but that he is not a franchise QB or even a future quality NFL starter in my estimation.

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech-

Thomas may have underwhelmed more than any other draft-eligible 2013 NFL Draft this year and I say that as someone who was very intrigued by his first season as a starter last year. He’s got all the size, arm strength and athleticism you could want in a quarterback, but his accuracy was erratic at best this year and his decision making regressed along with his mechanics over the course of the season. He came into the season being hyped up by some as a potential top 5 pick if he continued to progress and I can’t deny that I was one of the people who thought he had a chance to do that. However, it became clear early on that he was not ready to declare and not even ready to lead Virginia Tech to an above .500 record (the Hokies finished 6-6 this year). He has a LONG way to go before he will be a quality NFL starting QB, but there are split opinions on whether or not he should stay or declare. I think he should absolutely stay, but some think that he should go to the next level and begin getting NFL level coaching. Personally, I think he needs to work hard this offseason to improve his mechanics, gain chemistry with his returning receivers and come back and prove that he can be a leader and a catalyst on a team that competes for the ACC title. I thought he had a chance to do that this year, but the lack of a consistent running game and Thomas’ own issues compounded the problems that the Hokies had from top to bottom. I’m not going to buy him as a leader and as a player with quality intangibles until his decision making improves and until he shows he can command a game pre-snap. He has a lot of room to improve, and if his accuracy never improves he will remain a developmental project that may or may never live up to his immense raw potential. I like him, and I still think he can make strides this offseason and next year in his third season as a starter, but he has plenty of work to do.

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Conference Predictions:

SEC:

West:

1-      LSU

2-      Alabama

3-      Arkansas

4-      Mississippi State

5-      Auburn

6-      Texas A&M

7-      Ole Miss

East:

1-      South Carolina

2-      Georgia

3-      Tennessee

4-      Florida

5-      Vanderbilt

6-      Missouri

7-      Kentucky

SEC Title Game: LSU and South Carolina: LSU is SEC Champion

Analysis: The SEC is loaded as usual, particularly the West. LSU loses Tyrann Mathieu which is unfortunate for every college football fan, but if Zach Mettenberger can establish a consistent passing game then the LSU offense is going to absolutely take off. Alabama is extremely talented as usual, but they are replacing so much on defense and at their skill positions on offense that there’s no way that they replicate their 2011 season. They are my early 2013 favorites however. Arkansas lost Bobby Petrino and their top three receivers, but unless their defense improves they won’t bump LSU or Alabama out of the top of the West. I went back and forth on South Carolina and Georgia a lot because both teams don’t have a great track record of delivering when the pressure is on. South Carolina’s defense could end up better than Georgia’s though, and even though I like Aaron Murray I have some questions about Georgia’s offense. Tennesse has talent and should be solid, but Florida’s ridiculous handling of their quarterback competition means I can’t project them any higher than 4th in the East. Vanderbilt is a bit of a dark horse with a strong core on offense and a bright coach in James Franklin, but just getting to a bowl game would be a successful season for them.

Big 10:

Legends:

1-      Michigan

2-      Michigan State

3-      Nebraska

4-      Iowa

5-      Northwestern

6-      Minnesota

Leaders:

1-      Wisconsin

2-      Ohio State

3-      Illinois

4-      Purdue

5-      Penn State

6-      Indiana

Big-10 Title Game: Wisconsin and Michigan: Wisconsin is Big-10 Champion

Analysis: If Wisconsin doesn’t come out of the Leaders division to compete for the Big-10 title again this year then Bret Bielema should just quit, because outside of Illinois there is no eligible team that has a slightly realistic chance of keeping them out of the title game. Michigan and Michigan State will be a terrific battle down to the end of the season in my opinion, and ultimately it will come down to how well Denard Robinson can deliver the ball and avoid turnovers in big games in my opinion. If he carries the Wolverine offense on his back he could be a finalist for the Heisman as well. Nebraska has some talent, but they will never be a legitimate Big-10 title contender until they get a real quarterback to replace Taylor Martinez, who is one of the worst passing quarterbacks of all the teams that don’t run an option offense.

ACC:

Atlantic:

1-      Florida State

2-      Clemson

3-      NC State

4-      Wake Forest

5-      Boston College

6-      Maryland

Coastal:

1-      Virginia Tech

2-      Georgia Tech

3-      North Carolina

4-      Miami

5-      Virginia

6-      Duke

ACC Title Game: Virginia Tech and Florida State: Virginia Tech is ACC Champion.

Analysis: Florida State is incredibly loaded, particularly on defense. Their defensive line is the best in football in my opinion, even better than LSU’s, and they return enough talent on offense to be a dark horse contender for the National Championship game. I don’t think they’ll make it because I’m not a big believer in EJ Manuel, but if he can improve enough to put up points this team could end up in the top 5 by season’s end. And yet, I have a gut feeling that this is Virginia Tech’s year and I think they will go toe to toe with Florida State in the ACC Championship game and win. I trust Logan Thomas more than Manuel in critical situations even if he is younger with less experience, and Virginia Tech returns plenty of talent on defense as well. Clemson will be nipping at Florida State’s heels as well but I don’t think Clemson’s offensive line has enough talent and experience to keep Florida State’s relentlessly deep and talented front four from terrorizing Boyd when he drops back to pass.

Big 12:

1-      West Virginia

2-      Kansas State

3-      Oklahoma

4-      Texas

5-      TCU

6-      Oklahoma State

7-      Texas Tech

8-      Baylor

9-      Kansas

10-   Iowa State

West Virginia is Big-12 Champion.

Analysis: I’m sure plenty of people will be surprised that I have West Virginia and Kansas State ranked ahead of Oklahoma and Texas, but I have plenty of faith in West Virginia’s offense to pass their way to the top of the Big-12 and if their defense improves at all they could very well win this conference. Kansas State shocked everyone last year by not only being good but by being good enough to get to the Cotton Bowl. And yet, everyone is writing them off again this year even though they return plenty of talent across their roster, and even their losses on defense aren’t irreplaceable. Collin Klein is the Tim Tebow of the Big-12 and he will keep Kansas State competitive even if it isn’t always pretty, and those writing KSU off will look foolish again this year. Oklahoma continues to be ranked in the top 5 year after year regardless of how many times they fail to live up to their talent level. Landry Jones plays a big role in that, and there aren’t many quarterbacks I wouldn’t want leading my team more than Jones. He’s not reliable under pressure, he panics in big time situations and collapsed when his best receiver Ryan Broyles went down last season. Oklahoma has plenty of talent on defense, but that has never stopped them from failing to live up to expectations, and even though Mike Stoops is back in the fold I don’t think it will be enough to win the Big-12 or a National Championship. Texas seemed to be on the right track naming a starting quarterback, but now the competition is back on and when you have two quarterbacks you really have none. So as good as that defense is it won’t matter if they don’t have any continuity at quarterback.

Pac-12:

North:

1-      Oregon

2-      Washington

3-      Stanford

4-      California

5-      Oregon State

6-      Washington State

South:

1-      Southern Cal

2-      Utah

3-      UCLA

4-      Arizona State

5-      Arizona

6-      Colorado

Pac-12 Title Game: USC and Oregon: USC is Pac-12 Champion.

Analysis: The Pac-12 is honestly one of the worst conferences top to bottom in the country, I was shocked by how little overall depth both divisions had. The North has three, maybe four bowl game caliber teams and the South has TWO. Look at that 3-6 list, only UCLA has an chance at a bowl game out of those four teams, and ASU, Arizona and Colorado should be awful this season. Oregon and USC both have a pretty easy road to the Pac-12 title game if you ask me, though Washington and Stanford won’t be pushovers even in spite of all the talent they lost.

Big East:

1-      Cincinnati

2-      Louisville

3-      South Florida

4-      Pittsburgh

5-      Rutgers

6-      Syracuse

7-      Connecticut

8-      Temple

Cincinnati is Big East Champion.

Analysis: The Big East is probably the worst big time conference in college football and they are clinging on for dear life and relevance right now. Cincinnati is the best by default this year now that West Virginia bolted for the Big-12, and after Louisville there isn’t a lot to write home about in the Big East. There’s the potential for some bowl eligible teams, but there isn’t a legit title contender in this whole conference and whoever the winner is will likely play a better conference champion in a BCS bowl game and get the tar beat out of them like Connecticut did two years ago at the hands of Oklahoma.

 

Thanks for reading, and happy college football season to each and every one of you!

–Tom

Aundrey Walker took over as USC’s left tackle only a few practices into Spring Ball and hasn’t looked back. He is the only new starter on USC’s offensive line, and must replace Matt Kalil while protecting Matt Barkley’s blind side.

Tom: First of all Aundrey, thank you for your time, I really appreciate the chance to talk with you more in depth and I know you’re busy.

Tom: What was it like playing on USC last year?

Aundrey: I mean it was different from High School. I feel like camp here made you a man, and made you actually realize “did you want to play this game, do you want to play this sport” and at USC the team, the coaches, it’s a lot of love. I had a great time last season and I’m really looking forward to this season.

Tom: What ultimately made you decide to go and stay at USC despite the sanctions?

Aundrey: It was just my dream, it was my dream school and when I got the offer I was lost for words because it was just three years ago I was watching them on TV and now I had a chance to be a USC player so I thought why not take it. It wasn’t just looking at the football side, it was academics too. You can do a lot of things with a USC degree so I knew it was a good route to take.

Tom: What was the team’s mindset like given the 2nd and last year of the bowl ban?

Aundrey: The mindset was just go out there and have fun. I mean, we really didn’t worry about the bowl sanctions to be honest. It was more about establishing team unity and becoming more of a family. We just went out there and played, went out there and played as a team.

Tom: Is the team excited to finally have a chance at a BCS bowl game again?

Aundrey: Oh of course. It’s always been a dream for a high school kid to come to college and play in a bowl game. I’m happy that we have the opportunity to compete for a bowl and we are all looking forward to it.

Tom: What was your playing weight during the season last year?

Aundrey: Last year in January I was 378 on my visit here at USC and I went back home and my Uncle was told me “you can’t go to college at that weight” and I came to USC at 352. But through all that I was gaining weight as I was at USC. Mini-camp came around and I got down to 346, then I went home in December at 344 or 342 and came back 330. I just kept going through the training and weight lifting with the whole training staff and I lost 30 more pounds to get down to 296. That was my last time I weighed in at 296. It really only took me four months to lose all that weight.

Tom: That is amazing Aundrey. You should be really proud of that. Obviously you changed your eating habits, but what kind of weight training did you do to help you lose so much weight?

Aundrey: It was a lot of conditioning, a lot of running, a lot of cardio. And when we lift weights it will be low weight but heavy reps so you burn more fat.

Tom: Do you feel faster now that you are under 300 pounds?

Aundrey: Oh yeah of course, I feel like a gazelle out there.

Tom: What has playing lighter changed most about your game?

Aundrey: I’m more explosive and quicker off the ball and I feel like I can compete. When I played at 346 I was very sluggish and I lost my breath a lot. Within five plays I would lose my breath, but now I can play forever I feel like.

Tom: I remember reading that you said you were “surprised” that you were named the left tackle over Kevin Graf, did you expect to be at right tackle this year?

Aundrey: It was really just, whatever my team needed me to do I was going to do it. That was my mindset. If I was right tackle, right guard, left tackle, center it doesn’t matter. I was just out there working and they switched me over and if I got the opportunity to play left tackle why not take it. I worked hard and I’m still working hard to maintain this spot.

Tom: I read that Graf started out the spring at left tackle, but shortly after you were at left tackle the rest of the way. Is that true?

Aundrey: Yeah.

Tom: What was your reaction when the team moved you to the left side?

Aundrey: Did you say what was the team’s reaction?

Tom: No what was your reaction, but yeah both!

Aundrey: I mean the team was happy with it, it was a coaching decision and they felt comfortable with me playing there. I have to go out there and play hard every play to help keep Matt Barkley protected. But I was happy obviously, a very good feeling.

Tom: Did your offensive line coach mention anything to you about things you were doing well during spring ball?

Aundrey: I don’t ask him much about that, I’m more of a guy who likes to work on my game and work on the flaws of it so he’s going to send me a cut-up of things where I need to improve. We’re more focused on those things.

Tom: What are some of the things you think you need to work on?

Aundrey: I would say my point of contact, I think I open up a bit too much in pass pro just being honest with myself, I think I need to work on that. If I stop opening up so quick I think I can be a great pass protector.

Tom: I know you said you like to focus on where you need to improve, but if you had to pick one of your greatest strengths as an offensive tackle what would it be?

Aundrey: I like to pull and to get out in space and POUND dudes.

Tom: Did you pick anything up from Matt Kalil while you were at USC with him?

Aundrey: Oh yeah I picked up a lot from him! The reason I was so determined was because of him. He told me that I have to grind. He told me the left tackle spot was open and I had to go out and take it. I promised him I would come back at 320 pounds and I did. So I mean I always looked at him and his pass protecting, he was a great pass protector, a great run blocker. He was just an all around great player and athlete.

Tom: Would you say he’s one of your mentors for the position?

Aundrey: Oh of course, of course.

Tom: Do you have any other mentors?

Aundrey: I work with LeCharles Bentley, he helps me a lot.

Tom: Did you ever get to go up against Nick Perry in practice?

Aundrey: I think it happened one time. It was a lot to handle it really was, knowing that he was a big NFL prospect.

Tom: Did you stop him or did he get you?

Aundrey: Umm… It was at the point of contact and I couldn’t really move him he’s just a brick.

Tom: Are there any players on defense that stuck out to you during the spring? Anyone I might not have heard about?

Aundrey: Everybody who is on defense right now is stickin’ out.

Tom: Give me one player who really balled out on defense.

Aundrey: TJ. But that’s normal for TJ, he’s a great player. On the whole we have a great defense. Dion [Bailey], Hayes [Pullard], Lamar [Holmes], Wes Horton, Nickell Robey.

Tom: Anyone on offense that has especially impressed you?

Aundrey: Same. All around we are a great team I feel like. Offense we have targets, defense we have talent. I can speak for everybody. Our whole offensive line, quarterback, running back, receivers, tight end, everybody is talented.

Tom: Do you feel any added pressure being the only new starter on the offensive line?

Aundrey: No, not at all.

Tom: I mentioned earlier that you’ve got a little nastiness to you, is there anyone else on the offensive line like that?

Aundrey: Khaled Holmes. He’s a great guy, a great role model. He’s very smart, very intelligent. He knows everything. The whole playbook, he’s like another coach away from the coaches.

Tom: That’s great to hear. I like John Martinez too, what’s the story on him?

Aundrey: Oh, John Martinez? Oh my god he’s an animal. Just one word: animal. That defines John Martinez.

Tom: I really like that he can play center and guard, I like that versatility.

Aundrey: Oh yeah absolutely. I mean he came in as the #1 recruit as a center right?

Tom: I think so. Oh, and tell me he still has the afro from last year.

Aundrey: Oh yeah he has braids now though.

Tom: Do you have any specific goals for the upcoming season, both for the team and for yourself?

Aundrey: Just go out there and play, just have fun. That’s all it is, go out there and try to win every game, step by step, day by day.

Tom: Is there one game this year you are particularly looking forward to?

Aundrey: All games. All games are important and we just have to go game by game. There’s not one particular game I’m focused on because we need to win every game.

Tom: Is there a defensive lineman you are particularly excited to go up against?

Aundrey: I haven’t heard anything yet, probably during mini-camp and before the season I’ll hear something but no I’m not worried about anyone really.

Tom: What is one thing you would like the world to know about you that it may not already know?

Aundrey: I’m a great guy, I love to sing, and I’m determined and dedicated to be successful and failure is not an option.

Tom: Wow, that’s probably the best answer I’ve ever heard for that question. What’s your favorite song to sing?

Aundrey: My favorite thing to sing? Another Day, Another Dollar hahaha.

Tom: Haha! Good answer! My favorite thing to sing is any Eminem song.

Aundrey: Hahaha.

Tom: Well that’s about all I’ve got, do you have any questions for me?

Aundrey: No not at all, thank you so much.

Tom: Great, well thank you for taking the time to talk with me and I am looking forward to watching you this season! I’m sure we’ll talk before the season, good luck with the rest of your training. When does summer camp start for you?

Aundrey: August 7th I believe.

Tom: Alright, well congratulations on all your progress, and I’ll be in touch! I’ll send you the link when I get the interview up on the site. Thanks again Aundrey.

Aundrey: Great, thank you.

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

Holmes is highly touted and regularly ranked as the #1 center in the country, but he has a number of flaws in his game that concern me.

Size: Holmes is listed at 6’3”, 310 pounds, which is very impressive size for a center. Not sure how long his arms are, but he has the frame to add weight to his lower body. His size is the first thing you notice about him. He’s the size of a guard but plays center, which is what every NFL team is looking for. You love to essentially have three guards on the field, except one of them is snapping the ball. Not many teams have that.

Athleticism: Holmes is a pretty good athlete. He doesn’t have a great first step off the line of scrimmage, but he gets to the second level well and does a good job double-teaming initially before getting to the second level where you would engage a linebacker. He is also athletic enough to get out in front of screens, though he rarely does as the center, and does a terrific job cut-blocking for a man his size. Holmes isn’t an elite athlete, but for a man his size he moves pretty well, and shows the ability to quickly maneuver when run blocking to wall off a defender and create a running lane.

Technique: This is where I have a problem with Holmes. I think his technique needs a lot of work, and he has some bad habits that will be hard to correct. First, his hand placement could use improvement. It is good at times initially, but far too many times he lets his hands get outside the numbers which will result in holding calls at the next level. I saw him hold more times than I could count, including many incidences where he should have obviously been called for holding, but he never drew a single holding penalty in any of the games I watched from his junior season (and I watched over half of USC’s games). Second, he leans too much as a blocker, leading to balance issues and problems sustaining blocks. This is especially apparent as a run blocker, as he will bend at the waist at times, lean into blocks either too much to the right or left, and the defender will make a quick move resulting in a block shed while Holmes often ends up on the ground. Third, he regularly takes poor angles when trying to block linebackers at the second level. Time and time again he lets linebackers get by him without being able to engage them, all because he doesn’t approach them correctly. To his credit, he did a better job of this later in the season, so there is hope for him to improve this, but it was a consistent issue throughout the year. Overall, his technique did not impress me in the least, and he has a ways to go before I will give him a good grade in this area. It is very difficult to get a player to stop bending at the waist and leaning into blocks too much, and it’s tough to improve a player’s balance particularly someone as large as a 300 pound offensive lineman. These are all issues that Holmes has, and unfortunately I don’t think they are easily corrected.

Pass Protection: Holmes is a pretty good pass protector considering all the issues I have with his ability as a run blocker. He has a pretty good anchor, though it could be improved, and it is pretty rare to see him get bull-rushed into the quarterback once he is in his pass set. He shows that he can sit down, anchor and stop a defensive tackle’s bull rush and does a solid job mirroring defenders. He is very smart so he rarely, if ever, picks up the wrong defender in pass protection. His size and lower body strength give him an advantage in pass protection as defensive linemen won’t be able to overpower him easily, though shorter, squattier players have a tendency to get into his pads and push him a yard or two before he anchors. Additionally, he will get beat off the ball every once in a while by a defender who has good burst off the ball and beats him with a quick move off either shoulder. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and when it does it leaves Barkley running for his life. Overall, Holmes is an above-average pass protector, but I want to see more from him in this area.

Run Blocking: Run blocking is one of my problems with Holmes. He certainly flashes some impressive play, particularly as a wall-off blocker and as a cut-blocker. However, he struggles to create movement as a drive blocker and struggles to sustain 1 on 1 blocks with defensive tackles quite a bit, and even struggles to keep linebackers blocked at times. There is a popular adage with great offensive lineman that “once they get your hands on you, you’re out of the play.” That is unfortunately not the case with Holmes, at least when run blocking, and frequently when a defensive lineman or linebacker made a play in the backfield against USC it could be traced back to a player Holmes was blocking or trying to block. It was a very alarming trend, particularly for someone who was getting 1st-2nd round pre-season grades and was often ranked the number one center in the 2013 NFL Draft class. Holmes does show a little nastiness to pancake defenders and to knock them down when combo-blocking (multiple times John Martinez, USC’s right guard #59, would be blocking a defensive tackle one on one and Holmes would come in from the side and knock him to the ground and proceed to the second level to find a linebacker). I like that in a lineman, particularly in a lineman that is often considered the quarterback of the offensive line. Holmes shows that he can initiate a block, turn the defender (or himself) and create a lane behind him for the back to run through, or he can make a cut block near the line of scrimmage or in space. That makes me think he projects better to a zone blocking scheme than a man blocking scheme, which is strange considering his impressive size for a center. Overall, Holmes’ run blocking is below-average, and there were plenty of instances where it was poor and even abysmal at times. He was the weak link at times in the running game, and that was with a true freshman starting at left guard. That is a concern for a supposedly good or great center.

Intangibles: This may be Holmes’ strongest area. According to Aundrey Walker, USC’s new starting left tackle, Holmes “knows the whole play-book, he’s like having another coach out on the field.” That’s a glowing recommendation, and it backs up what I have heard, read and observed about Holmes. He regularly makes line calls and points things out to Barkley at the line of scrimmage and he rarely makes a mental mistake in pass protection. He seems to be the leader of the offensive line, and that is definitely something that helps his overall grade. Having a center with Holmes’ level of football IQ is exactly what you want, and it often leads to a long career in the NFL.

Overall: Holmes is a tough guy to figure out, because he flashes impressive run blocking occasionally and he shows above-average pass blocking regularly, but when he makes mistakes in the run game they are extremely costly. He has impressive size for a center, he has above-average strength for the position, as well as pretty good athleticism. He also has the football IQ and starting experience to be able to compete for a starting job right away if it weren’t for his significant flaws as an every-down run blocker. Looking at him on paper, his size and athleticism plus his football IQ make him very attractive. However, his technique needs considerable work and some of his bad habits are not easily coached out of players. On top of that, he doesn’t project well to a man-blocking scheme that would ask him to move a defensive tackle off the ball one on one. He is a better fit in a zone blocking scheme that would take advantage of his mobility, his ability to cut block, and his ability to turn defenders and create cut-back lanes for backs to take advantage of. So while Holmes certainly has some impressive qualities, and some NFL caliber skills, he also has some issues that are serious red flags for me when projecting him to the next level.

Projection: 4th round. He gets a mid-round grade from me for now because he has draftable ability, and NFL teams will not discount his football IQ that is sure to impress in interviews as well as on the field. However, he absolutely needs to improve his technique and try to put an end to his bad habits if he is going to improve his draft stock this year. I’ll certainly be on the look-out for any improvements, but right now I can’t grade him in the top three rounds and he won’t be my #1 overall center the next time I update my center rankings.

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

For weeks or months, the NFL Draft community has been speculating about what the St. Louis Rams will do with the #2 overall selection in the NFL Draft. Will they keep it and select Matt Kalil or Justin Blackmon? Will they trade down with the Browns? Will they trade down with the Redskins or the Dolphins? I’ll be honest and say that I expected the Browns to get Robert Griffin III when all was said and done, but that does not appear to be likely anymore.

Jay Glazer is reporting that the St. Louis Rams have agreed to swap 2012 1st round selections (Rams own #2 overall, the Redskins own #6 overall) and the Rams will receiver two future 1st round selections as well as “additional” picks. I will update this with details later once they are finalized and confirmed. **UPDATE The additional pick is a 2012 2nd round pick from Washington** What we do know, at least for now, is that the Redskins have mortgaged a significant part of their future draft picks to move up to #2 overall. In all likelihood, they will be selecting Robert Griffin III with that selection, and they will have their quarterback of the future.

I’m not often in favor of these blockbuster trades, and I worried that the trade for Julio Jones may have been too much for one player and that it might have put too much pressure on Jones to perform well as a rookie. That was a trade for two 1st round selections as well as other valuable picks. This trade is for three 1st round selections and other picks, and because Griffin plays quarterback the pressure will be even more intense than it was for Jones. I personally don’t believe Griffin should play Day One, but I tend to be conservative with quarterback development (as I believe more NFL teams should be). Regardless, the Redskins made a very bold move to move up to #2 overall and will likely come away with their quarterback of the future with that selection.

I know I’ve been absent for a while, but I’m officially back in the saddle. Keep checking in for more NFL Draft news as the draft draws near!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

Quarterbacks:

BJ Coleman (Chattanooga) continued to look like the top quarterback here as he went 10/15 for 170 yards and 1 touchdown on the night. He led two scoring drives in the first half and was the only quarterback to challenge the field beyond the 10-15 yards range for quite some time. He got lucky on one of them but thanks to a great catch and run by Chase Ford (Miami) his stat line reflected how good he looked when he had reps. He threw a couple easy passes but he threw the ball accurately and to the right shoulder on all of them. It’s great to see him put it all together like this but it’s too bad he couldn’t move the East down the field on that last series to make for a really exciting ending! BJ definitely helped himself this week and capped it off with a quality performance. He’s got promising future ahead of him and I still maintain that he has starter upside.

Austin Davis (Southern Mississippi) produced a scoring drive late in the 1st half when he threw a short touchdown pass to LaRon Byrd in traffic for a score. Davis made a couple nice throws and threw the ball pretty accurately when he got time to throw. His lack of arm strength was evident on a couple of throws though and they masked that a bit when they rolled him out on a throw to the near sideline to Mayo. He looked pretty comfortable in the pocket at times though. Chandler Harnish (Northern Illinois) didn’t look quite as comfortable though, probably because he seemed to deal with more pressure than any of the other quarterbacks. He took a couple shots, one of them a big one from Akiem Hicks on a screen pass. Harnish was 8/14 for 52 yards and one interception. He also ran for 7 rushing yards and 1 touchdown in the 1st half but at least two of his incompletions were dropped passes by running backs on screens, both of which were set up nicely.

Tyler Hansen (Colorado) also got into the game and moved the ball a little bit as he went 12/17 for 144 yards. He didn’t impress me quite as much, but I think he has a chance to get drafted very late or get signed as an undrafted free agent. Dan Persa (Northwestern) was ineffective and got little playing time going 1/3 for only 10 yards and running twice for -2 yards. His two incompletions were significantly overthrown deep balls, and he seemed to believe that he needed to make a big play to stay in the game for more than one or two series. If that’s what he was thinking, then unfortunately he seemed to be right.

Running Backs:

Tauren Poole (Tennessee) got the running started with a nice run showing his burst and vision on his first carry but didn’t have much room to run the rest of the game and he finished the night with 5 carries for 17 yards with his first run accounting for 15 of those yards. He also added one reception for 14 yards, but dropped a pass on a screen that was sniffed out well by Ronnie Thornton. Marc Tyler (Southern Cal) was another impressive back as he showed impressive vision, a little burst and some power to run through tackles as he gained 34 yards on just 6 carries. Alfred Morris (Florida Atlantic) ended up as the leading rusher for the East with 9 carries for 32 yards. He wasn’t terrific, but he did run through contact very well and a lot of his 32 rushing yards were well earned.

Bobby Rainey (Western Kentucky) showed some burst and vision but finished with only 6 receptions for 33 yards. He did, however, catch 4 passes for 23 yards out of the backfield. But the most impressive back on the night as far as statistics were concerned was Lennon Creer (Louisiana Tech). Creer finished with 80 rushing yards on 15 carries and his touchdown late in the 4th quarter gave the West the victory. Creer had some pretty big holes to run through in the second half so I don’t necessarily think he was the best back on the roster, but he sure did have a good game.

Wide Receivers:

Tim Benford (Tennessee Tech) had a solid game and caught every pass that I saw thrown his way. He definitely helped himself this week and continued to run good routes tonight. Jarius Wright (Arkansas) may have had the catch of the night on a deep ball from Tyler Hansen that he dove and caught for a 41 yard gain. He displayed his speed and route running all game and ran right by Josh Norman, one of the stars of this week of practice, for that big gain.

Lance Lewis (East Carolina) had a solid game catching 4 passes for 41 yards, but a couple of those receptions came on the final drive with less than a minute left. Lewis is still an underrated player but he may not have helped him as much this week as some expected him to. B.J. Cunningham (Michigan State) had a couple receptions and his most impressive play was on a curl that was thrown very well by Coleman and Cunningham was able to catch it and seamlessly turn and run towards the sideline. He ran through a tackle attempt by Rodney McLeod and scored easily.

Thomas Mayo (Cal PA) had a solid game with 3 receptions for 41 yards and showed pretty good hands and caught passes in rhythm from the quarterback who delivered the ball to him. LaRon Byrd (Miami) continued to surprised by making a couple tough catches, one on a throw slightly behind him and another in significant traffic for a touchdown in the 1st half.

Tight Ends:

Surprisingly, tight ends led both teams in receiving in this game. Chase Ford (Miami) made one of the great plays of the game by catching a pass in traffic from Coleman downfield, taking a hit from Gideon as he caught the ball and somehow stayed on his feet and rumbled for significant yardage after the catch. It was his only reception, but it was a big one. George Bryan (NC State) had 3 catches for 55 yards but continued to look slow when running routes and when running after the catch.

Offensive Line:

It was hard to see all of the offensive line play from up in the press box, but when I re-watch the game I will definitely have more notes on the offensive line.

Defensive Line:

Kyle Wilber (Wake Forest) had a good game as he was consistently around the ball, he made a number of tackles (unfortunately I couldn’t track down a stat sheet, so at this time I don’t know how many tackles he finished with) and showed his ability to rush the passer. He’s still pretty light to try to stick at defensive end, but I think he has the potential to shift to outside linebacker at the next level. Akiem Hicks (Regina, Canada) didn’t have a lot of impact plays but he consistently showed developing hand usage and his strength to keep blockers off balance. He also had a couple hits on quarterbacks tonight, though he did play too high at times. Nick Jean-Baptiste (Baylor) isn’t fantastic at the point of attack but when you allow him to work down the line of scrimmage and use his motor he can make plays at the line of scrimmage. He had a few tackles at or near the line of scrimmage tonight. DaJohn Harris (Southern Cal) made a nice tackle for loss in this game but I didn’t see a lot of him otherwise. Tyrone Crawford (Boise State) also made a couple nice plays but I didn’t see a ton of him live either.

Linebackers:

Jerry Franklin (Arkansas), Josh Kaddu (Oregon) and Tank Carder (TCU) all made a couple plays up near the line of scrimmage today and all showed some potential in coverage as well. Shawn Loiseau (Merrimack) had an up and down night but his effort and passion should help him make a roster. I didn’t see too many other linebackers making plays, but again it was hard to keep an eye on everything live from the press box.

Defensive Backs:

I didn’t get a great look at all of these guys and because they were playing such vanilla coverages it isn’t the greatest barometer of their ability. I saw Josh Norman (Coastal Carolina) get beat deep and attempt a big hit on Kevin Koger that was rendered ineffective, I saw Aaron Henry (Wisconsin) absolutely level Emil Igweganu over the middle. Other than that I don’t have an abundance of notes on the defensive backs from this game unfortunately.

Punters:

I told you guys that Bryan Anger (California) can punt didn’t I? He had some great punts tonight just like he did all week. He might honestly get drafted.

I’m sorry for the lack of notes from the game. I wish I had the stats to help with the defense and it was tough to focus in on everything during the game. It’s always easier to watch the skill position players when the ball is going to them. I’ll re-watch the game at some point and get notes up on it.

Thanks for reading all week. I’ll be covering the Senior Bowl next week as well!

–Tom