Tag Archive: Tajh Boyd


Top Seniors:

1-      Tajh Boyd, Clemson- Boyd really impressed me with his growth as a junior and had one of his best games in the bowl game against LSU. DeAndre Hopkins helped take over that game, but Boyd’s progression makes me think he will continue to improve as a senior. I’ve made this mistake before on Jake Locker, but I have high hopes for Boyd.

2-      David Fales, San Jose State- Thanks to Ben Allbright, Fales became a very popular name amongst NFL Draft analysts, particularly on Twitter. The hashtag #EpicFales may be one of the greatest hashtags of all time. Regardless, Fales has a NFL arm and really impressed me in the limited time I was able to watch him. He is not without flaws, but he’s definitely one of my top 5 QB’s even considering juniors.

3-      Jeff Matthews, Cornell- My good friend Emory Hunt turned me on to Matthews months ago and I have to say I was very impressed with what I saw. He’s got a strong arm, he’s accurate, and he’s definitely going to become more and more popular as the process goes on. Emory pointed out that he reminds him of Matt Ryan and I definitely see the similarities.

4-      Derek Carr, Fresno State- Carr has a very talented arm, not unlike his older brother David, but he worried me with how he handled pressure and he obviously struggled a lot while Margus Hunt terrorized him in Fresno State’s bowl game. He’s got another full year to show he can improve, and his natural talent means he’s in my top 5 QB’s, but I want to see him handle pressure better.

5-      Bryn Renner, North Carolina- This might be me showing my UNC fandom, but I really think Renner is a quality quarterback prospect. He certainly isn’t perfect, and he had a great season in a wide open offense last year, but he has experience in different styles of offense, a strong arm, and I think he’s an effective leader. I think he will open some eyes as a senior.

6-      Aaron Murray, Georgia- If I expect McCarron to be the most scrutinized quarterback in this class, I think Murray is going to be a close second. He has been deemed as a player who can’t win the big game, and he’s going to have a tough time changing everyone’s minds as a senior. I’m glad he came back because I still think he has room to improve, but there’s a stigma about him that is going to be hard to shake. I do think he is a NFL caliber starter though, but he’s definitely not a franchise caliber guy in my opinion.

7-      A.J. McCarron, Alabama- I can already tell McCarron is going to be a divisive prospect. Some are going to see a “winner” that has been a key cog to Alabama’s title runs and others are going to cite his terrific supporting cast (skill position players, offensive line, and defense) and claim he is not much more than a game manager. I certainly don’t think he’s an elite prospect and his arm strength leaves something to be desired, but I don’t think he’s been coasting on the talent of Alabama’s roster either. I think he has some starter upside, but I am excited to see how his 2013 tape looks. He will certainly be one of the most highly scrutinized quarterbacks in this class.

8-      Tyler Russell, Mississippi State- I thought Russell flashed upside when he was still splitting time as a sophomore and in his last full season as a starter he flashed a lot of upside but showed that he still had a lot of room left to grow. He had a pretty horrendous bowl game and clearly needs to work on some things, but he has all the size and arm strength you could want in a quarterback. He may never live up to the expectations I have for him, but I’m willing to be patient and see if he can progress like I believe he is capable of.

9-      Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech- Thomas is another guy I really thought would progress last year but unfortunately he regressed and was essentially a massive disappointment considering some of the hype he was getting in the pre-season. He has all the size and arm strength you could ever dream of, but he was maddeningly inconsistent with his accuracy and decision making and clearly has a ton of growing left to do. I continue to hear great things about his work ethic so I believe he can still improve, I just don’t know if he will ever put it all together.

10-   Zach Mettenberger, LSU- Mettenberger was getting a lot of hype coming into the season but he was underwhelming during his first season as a starter. He’s got an intriguing combination of size and arm strength but he has to put it all together this year. He has starter upside, but he isn’t there yet.

11-   Drew Allen, Syracuse- I might be one of the few people that prefers Drew Allen to the Belldozer, but I do. I think Allen is going to win the Syracuse starting job and show that he has NFL talent at the quarterback position. This is probably higher than anyone else will have him ranked, but I am convinced Allen has starter upside at the next level.

12-   Stephen Morris, Miami- I was one of the people advocating for Morris to start over Jacory Harris during Harris’ senior year and I still think he’s the better quarterback. He’s a quality athlete with a strong arm, but his accuracy wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked to see as a junior. Miami has been through a lot the last couple of years, so I’m excited to see if Morris can end his career on a high note this season.

13-   James Franklin, Missouri- Franklin is an intriguing guy thanks to his size, arm strength and athleticism, but like many of these quarterbacks he has to put it all together and show a mastery of the position as a senior. I personally don’t foresee him being a NFL starter, but he definitely has that upside if he can show more progression as a senior.

14-   Keith Price, Washington- At this time last year Price was coming off of a masterful performance in Washington’s bowl game against Baylor’s hapless defense. This year? He is coming off of a disappointing junior year that left a lot of people underwhelmed. He doesn’t have the arm strength I thought he had, his decision making was inconsistent, and he left a lot to be desired as a junior. I’m hoping he can reverse field as a senior, but I’m not holding my breath.

15-   Corey Robinson, Troy- I don’t think Robinson is going to be in very many top 15 quarterback rankings coming into the season, but I saw a talented quarterback when I watched him as a freshman and I still believe he can play at the next level. He may be undersized, but he has a NFL arm and I am excited to see if he can prove that as a senior.

Top Juniors:

1-      Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville- Bridgewater put on a show as a sophomore last year and made a believer out of me. I think he has all the arm talent, athleticism, toughness and intangibles to be a stud quarterback in the NFL. It remains to be seen how he will do this upcoming season, but I definitely have high expectations for him.

2-      Brett Smith, Wyoming- Smith is another player Allbright pointed out to me last year. I haven’t seen as much of him as I’d like, but what I have seen was very intriguing.

3-      Blake Bortles, Central Florida- I haven’t watched much of Bortles, but what I have seen was intriguing. It was his first full season as a starter so I look forward to reviewing some of those games but also to seeing how he does as a junior and as a starter with more experience.

4-      Braxton Miller, Ohio State- I am not sold on Miller as a NFL QB yet, but he made some strides as a sophomore and he’s too intriguing of a playmaker to leave him off this list entirely. He’s got a lot of upside, it’s just a question of whether he can ever become as good of a pure passer as he is as a runner.

5-      Garrett Grayson, Colorado State- Grayson is a player I think has a lot of upside. He’s definitely flying under the radar, but I expect that he will be the starter for Colorado State and prior to his collarbone injury last year he really showed me something. He looks like he has a NFL arm, it’s just a question of whether he can keep the starting job, stay healthy, and put together some good film.

Top Sophomores:

1-      Kevin Hogan, Stanford- Hogan has future 1st round pick written all over him. He’s got the size, the arm strength (though his deep ball could use some work), athleticism and high football IQ I look for in a QB. He really impressed me when he took over for Josh Nunes, and he is embracing his role as a leader on Stanford and from what I’ve read seems to have a strong hold on Stanford’s complex offense. I think he’s going to be great this year and while he is eligible I expect him to come out after his junior season, not after his redshirt sophomore year.

2-      Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M- I know a lot of people will be surprised that I have anyone ranked over Manziel, but as far as the NFL is concerned I think Hogan is the superior prospect at this point. There’s no denying Manziel’s uncanny feel for the game, shocking athleticism and knack for game-changing plays, but he still has a long way to go before he is a “surgeon” rather than a butcher as a quarterback as Trent Dilfer would say. The upside is there, but he’s still learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Gayle is one of the best defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker prospects in the country, but somehow he seems to be flying under the radar. That won’t last long, as he is primed and ready for a double digit sack season as a junior.

Tom: First of all James, 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 your favorite thing about playing for Virginia Tech last season?

James: Probably the fans, just the Virginia Tech atmosphere and playing at Lane Stadium. I’d rather play in our stadium than anywhere else in the country.

Tom: You’ve been productive both seasons you’ve been at Virginia Tech even though last year was your first full season as a starter, do you expect an even more significant break-out year this season?

James: Definitely. I think the thing that hurt me last year was my injury, I missed 3 games and I still led the team in sacks. I’m healthy now though.

Tom: What is your accurate height, weight, and 40 yard dash time?

James: 6’4”, right now I weigh about 266 or 267 and the last time I ran I ran a 4.45 40 yard dash time, but I think I only weighed 257 or 258 at that point.

Tom: You “only” weighed 257 or 258 pounds and you ran in the 4.4’s, Josh Gordon just ran a 4.53 in the 40 yard dash at his pro-day and got drafted in the 2nd round of the supplemental draft and he weighs 40 pounds less than you!

James: Well I’ve always been fast though, even when I was in high school I was running in the 4.4’s but I guess I never got slower since all I’ve gained since coming to Virginia Tech is muscle.

Tom: Do you have any statistical goals for yourself or the team?

James: For the team I just want to be the #1 defense in the nation, or at least top 5. For myself I just want to have a better season than I did last year and continue to improve. I think if I stay healthy I’ll be better than I was last year and put myself in a good position.

Tom: What was it like watching Logan Thomas progress and grow as the season went on last year?

James: It was great. It was great watching him get acclimated to defenses but I think it was the Miami game where he really showed everyone what he could do.

Tom: Did he look even better in the spring?

James: You can tell he’s more comfortable and I think he’s getting better every day.

Tom: Everyone just kind of assumed he was going to play tight end when he was coming out of high school and now he’s one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation, it’s crazy.

James: I knew he was going to play quarterback because I played in an all-star game with him in high school, haha.

Tom: Well then you knew something I didn’t! Now did your defensive coaches mention anything to you about things you were doing well during spring ball?

James: Yeah they said I’m starting to get the little things down like my technique and my angles. I feel like I did an overall better job of that in the spring than I did in the past.

Tom: What kind of technique stuff did they specifically say you were improving on?

James: Just when I’m pass rushing taking the right angles. I usually just get by with my speed but that’s not going to work with every tackle so I’m just trying to get better with my hands and trying to take better angles to get to the quarterback.

Tom: That’s great to hear, that’s what you need to be a complete defensive end. You’re going to be scary when you get that technique down James.

James: Haha, well I’ve been working on it all summer.

Tom: What do you think your greatest strength is as a football player? Maybe your speed?

James: Yeah my speed, I’m just a natural pass rusher.

Tom: What about some of the things you think you need to work on? Obviously you’ve already mentioned technique.

James: Yeah, I mean I really haven’t been playing football that long to be honest my first season was my junior year in high school so basically I didn’t really have anybody to actually coach me up or teach me the position. Then I redshirted when I got to Virginia Tech and they don’t really teach you anything when you redshirt so I was just learning how to play the position my redshirt freshman year.

Tom: Do you have any mentors for the defensive end position? People you’ve patterned your game after?

James: Oh yeah definitely. Coach [Charley] Wiles the defensive line coach, Cornell Brown has been really instrumental and then I watch a lot of film of Bruce Smith since he played here.

Tom: What is one thing that every defensive end has to have in order to be successful?

James: I think he has to be aggressive. That’s something you can’t really teach a guy to be honest. There are a bunch of guys that have ability but they’re not aggressive, but then there are guys that have less ability but are more aggressive and I think that’s important. I feel like that’s something you can’t teach, but I think that also goes for every position.

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

James: Antone Exum. I think he’s going to be one of the best corners in the nation this year, him and Kyle Fuller. Antone runs a 4.3 and he’s like 225 pounds. He’s a good corner. Kyle is really good too he plays a lot bigger than he is. I’ve seen him lay some guys out that he was much smaller than.

Tom: Anyone on offense that has especially impressed you?

James: The running backs J.C. Coleman and Michael Holmes, then Logan Thomas. The receivers too, I know Marcus Davis is going to have a big year. For the most part our offense is going to do pretty well.

Tom: I’m sure Hokie fans will be encouraged to hear that the running backs look good since you just lost David Wilson and Josh Oglesby.

James: Yeah it’s pretty different because when I came here I played against three All-American running backs. I played against Darren Evans first, then Ryan [Williams] and then David [Wilson]. So I’m pretty sure one of those guys is ready to step up next.

Tom: You’re getting some hype coming into the season, do you feel any added pressure because of some loftier expectations?

James: No not at all. I feel like I’m just going to play my game. I feel like the expectations that people have for me coming into the season aren’t any higher than the expectations I already have for myself, so it’s not any different. I feel like I should be one of the best defensive ends in the country and I feel like I should be an All-American.

Tom: I know you saw me mention that you and J.R. Collins are one of the best defensive end tandems in college football, what do you think makes him so dangerous?

James: J.R. Collins is relentless. I totally agree that we’re a great tandem too because I think that J.R. Collins’ name should be up there with any of the best defensive ends in the ACC this year. He’s relentless, he’s hard-nosed and if I could pick anybody to play on the opposite side of me it would be him.

Tom: That’s a glowing recommendation. And I was just looking at your defensive line depth chart last night and it occurred to me that you guys could have one of the best defensive lines in the country as well. Do you think that’s possible?

James: I definitely think it’s possible. I feel like if it weren’t for my injury last year we would have been one of the best in the country from a pass rush standpoint.

Tom: And then you have the Hopkins brothers. You guys have a lot of returning experience on that defensive line.

James: Yeah the Hopkins brothers! I feel like our defensive line is going to be one of the best of the country. Both of them are really good players, and then we’ve got Luther Maddy who started last year as a true freshman at defensive tackle, so we essentially have a couple starters at second string.

Tom: Ok, who are the rotational guys behind you and J.R.?

James: Tyrel Wilson is the guy behind me, he did well last year. And behind J.R. is Zack McCray, plus we have another defensive end named Dadi Nicholas who redshirted last year.

Tom: Did you say his first name is Dadi? That’s AWESOME!

James: Yeah his first name is Dadi, haha.

Tom: What is it like playing for Bud Foster in his aggressive defense? I imagine it’s pretty fun.

James: Oh definitely, because I feel like I’m a pretty aggressive player so coming to school with an aggressive defensive coordinator it just matches. So I really enjoy playing for him.

Tom: Are you comfortable buzzing into coverage? Foster likes to bring zone blitzes so I know he asks you to drop sometimes.

James: Yeah definitely I feel really comfortable dropping into coverage. At first when you don’t do it for a while it’s weird but I’ve been doing it all summer since I’ve been working out with the DB’s so I’m comfortable doing it.

Tom: Uh-oh… I hope they don’t move you to safety James. You’ve got the speed for it after all.

James: Hahaha. I don’t think I’m ready for some of these little receivers though!

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

James: Oh yeah definitely Clemson. They had our number last year but this year they gotta be ready to go to war.

Tom: You and Tajh [Boyd] go back to high school I’m sure you want to get a W against him.

James: Oh Tajh? Yeah definitely. I’ve been playing him since high school but I’ve never been able to beat him.

Tom: I think this year might be the year then James.

James: Yeah, hopefully.

Tom: You’ve got a pretty good football pedigree with your dad Jimmy playing running back at Ohio State from 1979-82 and your Uncle Shaun playing DB for the Buckeyes and in the NFL from 1984-95 as well. Do you think that has helped you pick up the game so quickly?

James: Absolutely. I feel like I have strong football bloodlines since both my father and uncle played at Ohio State. I think my dad was an All-Big Ten running back so that might be where I get my speed from. Actually in high school my father was one of the fastest backs in the nation. I think that’s where the speed came from.

Tom: I definitely think that could be where you got your speed from.

James: Yeah I’d say that’s it, haha.

Tom: I read in an article that before you started playing football you were “more of a video game guy” and that after you got done with video games you said “I think I’ll just play football.” How did that come about?

James: I really wasn’t that interested in playing football when school first started so I just played video games. Then I got tired of that and just decided to play football, but I had never lifted weights or anything so I was like 160 pounds at the end of my 10th grade year. So I just started lifting weights and eating right and by the beginning of my senior year I was like 210. Now that I’m over 260 I’ve put on over 100 pounds of muscle since high school.

Tom: And you haven’t lost any speed, that’s the scary thing. Now, do you still play video games? If so, what’s your favorite game to play?

James: Nah, I guess I kinda played myself out of that. I guess I play some NCAA. They’ve got me rated as one of the best defensive ends on the game so that’s good.

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

James: Man, that’s tough. I guess that I can actually run a 4.4 because every time I get on the internet I see people saying I run a 4.7 or something like that. I want people to know that I have that kind of speed because that’s what I take pride in.

Tom: I had definitely read that you had 4.4 speed, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to believe that a 260 pound defensive end had 4.4 speed, that shit scares me.

James: Well I’ve seen guys at 270 be timed in the 4.5’s! It’s possible, there are guys that can do it. I guess we’ll see if I get my shot at the combine.

Tom: Well I predict that you will, that’s my prediction. It’s not bold, but it’s a prediction.

James: Haha, we’ll see.

Tom: I just want you to realize how unfair it is that you can run a 4.4 at that size, even a 4.5 would be just disgusting.

James: Well I’m very confident I can run a 4.5. I’ve never ran a laser 40 time, but I know I can do it.

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

James: No I don’t think so.

Tom: Well thank you for your time James, I appreciate the chance to talk with you a little more in depth. When does camp start up for you?

James: August 7th, I’m getting ready.

Only a couple weeks away! I’m ready for some football. Well good luck with the rest of your training and good luck this season!

James: Thanks! It was great talking to you.

Tom: You’re welcome, it was great talking with you as well. Take care.

NCAA Week 5 Top 25 Picks

South Florida over Pittsburgh

BJ Daniels should have a good game and Pittsburgh struggles with close games. The trouble is, this one might not end up being that close.

South Florida by 13

Texas A&M over Arkansas

Ryan Tannehill had a pretty good game last week in a loss to Oklahoma State, and the Aggies will be looking to rebound against Arkansas just a week after they were thoroughly dominated by Alabama. Both teams really need a win here, but I think Arkansas’ defense will prove problematic against the Aggies.

Texas A&M by 6

Michigan over Minnesota (Potential blow-out)

Denard Robinson should have a big game running and possibly a big game passing against the Gophers who are trying to turn the program around under Jerry Kill. The trouble is the head coach has had trouble with seizures, and there is no way it hasn’t had an impact on his players. Minnesota is simply overmatched in this game, and I see Michigan blowing them out.

Michigan by 24

Illinois over Northwestern

Illinois is a solid team but so is Northwestern. I expect Illinois to win, but don’t sleep on Northwestern. They are well coached and have some talent, plus they never go away. If the Illini let them hang around they could make a late push.

Illinois by 7

LSU over Kentucky (Potential blow-out)

LSU is hitting on all cylinders right now and Kentucky is going to be borderline powerless to stop them. Their defense is the best in the country and their running attack is extremely tough to slow down, much less stop. I see LSU winning in blow-out.

LSU by 24

Boise State over Nevada

Boise State lost this game to Nevada last year in dramatic fashion, but I don’t see Nevada pulling off two in a row. They should be overmatched, and Kellen Moore and company won’t be merciful after what Nevada did to their title hopes last season.

Boise State by 21

Georgia Tech over NC State

Georgia Tech’s running game is absolutely gashing anyone who gets in their way, even my beloved Tar Heels last week, and NC State’s defense isn’t on the same level as North Carolina’s. I expect them to run the ball early and often and control the clock in this game, and I think Georgia Tech should win pretty comfortably.

Georgia Tech by 17

West Virginia over Bowling Green

West Virginia is coming off of a rough loss against LSU, but Geno Smith looked poised and impressive staring into the teeth of the best defense in the nation and actually carved them up to an extent by throwing for 463 yards on 38 of 65 passing (58.5% completion) and two touchdowns and two interceptions. Was it a great game? No, but it was quite good for a developing quarterback against a fantastic defense. WVU should rebound easily against Bowling Green now that they know what their offense is truly capable of.

West Virginia by 28

Baylor over Kansas State

Robert Griffin III has been absolutely amazing this year. Through three games he has completed 70 of 82 pass attempts while throwing for 962 yards (11.73 yards per attempt, an insane number), 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. Last season he threw 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 13 games, an impressive statistical season. He is on pace to throw for well over 40 touchdowns at this current pace. It’s hard to imagine him continuing to play this way especially since he is averaging only four incompletions per GAME, but if he keeps playing comparably well to how he has started the season the Baylor Bears will be tough for anyone to beat. I don’t anticipate Kansas State being the team to cool Griffin off, so the Bears should win easily.

Baylor by 21

Auburn over South Carolina (upset)

I think South Carolina is pretty overrated and I think Auburn has a chance to pull off the upset here. Gene Chizik and his Auburn Tigers have a flair for the dramatic and they are tough to beat when you let them hang around. They always seem to make the big play late in the game to keep themselves alive, and they are well coached when it comes to playing from behind late in the game. I love Marcus Lattimore, but I don’t think Steve Spurrier has much faith in Stephen Garcia and I’m not sold on South Carolina’s defense. The game is in South Carolina, but I think Auburn has a great chance to pull off this upset. It will be interesting to see if they manage to do so.

Auburn by 3

TCU over SMU

I think SMU has a small chance of pulling off an upset here, but TCU is the better team overall. It will be interesting to see which way this game goes, but if SMU gets their offense going they could be tough to keep up with. Their running back Zach Line has 463 yards and 11 touchdowns in only four games, and their top receiver Darius Johnson has 27 catches, 398 yards and two scores already. I think TCU will win, but I don’t think it will be as easy as some people might think.

TCU by 7

Clemson over Virginia Tech

This was a really tough game for me to pick. I picked Clemson to upset Florida State last week, but Virginia Tech is extremely tough at home and the Tigers have to cool off EVENTUALLY right? Perhaps, but I don’t think it will be this week. I am high on Virginia Tech’s defense though and I think they have a chance to slow down Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and the rest of Clemson’s high flying offense in this game. However, what might define the game is how well Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech’s offense is able to play. Thomas has been solid thus far with 761 yards on 60 of 105 passing (57.1% completion) but he has thrown as many touchdowns (4) as interceptions. Clemson is on fire right now, so it will be interesting to see how this game plays out.

Clemson by 7

Texas over Iowa State

The Longhorns lost this game last year and I think they will make sure they show up to this one. Iowa State isn’t a push-over this year, but I think the Longhorns will be too much for them.

Texas by 14

Oklahoma over Ball State

Oklahoma still has a legitimate argument to be the #1 team in the country, so I don’t think they will have too much trouble with Ball State.

Oklahoma by 28

Alabama over Florida

This is going to be a fantastic game. I think Alabama and Florida have the 2nd and 3rd best defenses in the country only to LSU, so this is going to be a defensive slug fest if I had to guess. I picked Alabama because I trust their offense more thanks to Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy on the ground. This should be a great, close game though.

Alabama by 10

Wisconsin over Nebraska

This game is going to be fantastic. I have been waiting for this game ever since I heard that Russell Wilson might sign with the Badgers. Wisconsin’s run defense might be problematic against Nebraska, but I think Wisconsin’s offense is more than potent enough to put up points on the Cornhuskers. It should be a great game that is close right until the end, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. I do expect Russell Wilson to give the Badgers the push they need to win this game. A year ago I couldn’t have picked Wisconsin, but with Wilson at the helm I expect them to win.

Wisconsin by 7

Stanford over UCLA

Stanford is just too talented and well coached to be slowed down by UCLA.

Stanford by 21

Arizona State over Oregon State

Arizona State’s Brock Osweiler is a player that I am really warming up to, and I expect that he and the Sun Devils won’t have a lot of trouble with the win-less Oregon State Beavers.

Arizona State by 17

I was 16-3 last week, so let’s see how I do this week! Thanks for reading, and enjoy the games!

–Tom