Tag Archive: Tom Melton


Wisconsin Badgers Prospect Preview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iowa Hawkeyes Prospect Preview:

Mark Weisman, RB, Junior- Weisman is a 6’0”, 236 pound power back that helped save Iowa’s rushing attack last season. He walked on as a fullback after deciding to leave the Air Force and attend Iowa (playing for Iowa was “his dream”) and after injuries to two running backs against Northern Iowa Weisman was the next man up and he never looked back. He rushed 159 times for 815 yards and 8 touchdowns and added 15 receptions for 90 yards and another score as a receiver. Weisman won’t be confused for a speed back, but he seems to have pretty good vision, surprising quickness for someone who is supposed to be a fullback, and he runs hard with good pad level. It’s not surprising to see him run through tackles or run defenders over altogether when you watch him run. He figures to be “the guy” for Iowa this year, and it’s a pretty awesome story. Whether he will show the athleticism and skill set to be a NFL running back is another thing, but I am looking forward to seeing him run the ball and help stabilize the Iowa running game this season.

Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR, Junior- Most people would have assumed that Keenan Davis led the Hawkeyes in all statistical categories last season but in reality Martin-Manley (KMM) led the team in receptions (52), tied Davis for the lead in receiving yards (571) and led the team with 2 touchdowns. Obviously those aren’t earth shattering numbers, but the 6’0”, 205 pound receiver showed some promise as a possible slot receiver last year. He’s still only a junior, so I am looking forward to seeing if he can be “the guy” at wide receiver for the Hawkeyes this year. They still haven’t settled on a starting quarterback yet, so there’s a good chance KMM will have to deal with uneven quarterback play for another year if not two. Also, keep an eye on Jordan Cotton as a wide receiver and return man.

CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Senior- I have been waiting for Fiedorowicz to break out for the past two years and while I’m not sure it will happen this year I don’t think it will be because he lacks talent. The 6’7”, 265 pound tight end has had to deal with some pretty bad quarterback play the last couple of years and it doesn’t figure to get much better now that they are going to have a first time starter this year. Say what you will about James Vandenberg, but he threw every pass for Iowa last season. The Hawkeyes will be lucky to have that same kind of consistency this year in my opinion. That spells trouble for Fiedorowicz who, while being an excellent blocker, only totaled 45 receptions for 433 yards and 1 touchdown last year. He’s one of the most talented tight ends in the country, but it doesn’t show on the stat sheet because he doesn’t have anyone to get him the ball. Fiedorowicz is essentially an extension of the offensive line as a blocker which is a great asset for a team who runs a traditional pro style offense like Iowa, and it will make him appealing to teams like the Steelers in the NFL. For a full scouting report on Fiedorowicz read Matt Mochal’s write-up on him and follow him on Twitter @itsasabotage.

Brandon Scherff, OT, Junior- Scherff is coming off of a broken leg but he was 100% in the spring so he should be fine for the 2013 season. He’s not the same athlete that Van Sloten is but he is stronger and better in the run game. He’s shown an effective cut block and seems comfortable with zone and man concepts which is good, and he also has shown he can drive block a bit and generate push off the ball at times. He looks less comfortable in his pass sets though and looked slow off the ball against NIU, though that may have just been because Alan Baxter was flying off the edge so quick. But he did look late off the ball a number of times and wasn’t getting great depth in his initial drop or his kick slide in general, and it led to him being off balance at times. I think Scherff is more of a RT in the NFL, and I honestly think Van Sloten might be a better traditional fit at LT than Scherff is given his athleticism and some of his issues generating push in 1 on 1 situations. Scherff is the better run blocker, but I’ll give Van Sloten the edge in pass pro. Scherff’s main goal has to be to stay healthy, and it’s clear his presence was missed in the running game after his injury. If he stays healthy the run game should be fine, but I still have questions about him in pass protection.

Brett Van Sloten, OT, Senior- The first thing I noticed about Van Sloten (or BVS) is that he is an impressive athlete and I speculated that he had to be a former TE. Turns out he was, he played tight end and defensive end in high school. He is listed at 6’7”, 300 pounds and he moves like a defensive end. BVS needs to improve his anchor and get stronger in the lower half, but boy does he have potential thanks to that athletic ability. Seems to have pretty good length, needs to play with a bit better pad level, but his movement skills are awfully impressive for a 6’7” tackle. I’m not sure I saw him get speed rushed effectively once against Penn State, and while he doesn’t have much buzz around him right now I think he’s a nice sleeper prospect at the offensive tackle position. He’s not projected to get drafted now, but if he’s as athletic as he looks to me then I think he will creep up boards over the course of the year. If he can improve his anchor and work on his pad level a little bit I think that will help him even more.

Austin Blythe, Sophomore- Blythe is listed at 6’3”, 300 pounds but he looks smaller than that to me, likely 6’2” or so. He also seems to have short arms which concerns me, but he has a pretty stocky build. He started 9 games at right guard last year as a redshirt freshman and was a 1st team freshman All-American. He held his own for a freshman, but he has some room for improvement. He seems to lack lateral quickness and really struggled against players that were athletic enough to beat him with quickness and upfield speed. Jordan Hill gave him a lot of trouble, and it had to do with his quickness and burst. He is an effective combo blocker and he can get to the second level effectively, but he struggled at times in pass protection and giving up interior pressure frequently leads to disaster on pass plays. Blythe is moving inside to center this year so it will be interesting to see if he is stronger and more adept at handling quicker pass rushers. I think he is smart enough to handle the pivot and some of his issues at guard may not be as obvious at center. Only time will tell, but Iowa needs to elevate their interior line play if they are going to have any success as an offense. That starts with Blythe.

Dominic Alvis, DE, Senior- Alvis is a returning starter who is listed at 6’4”, 265 pounds. He’s kind of your typical Iowa defensive lineman who is a high effort, technically sound player that doesn’t have an abundance of athletic ability or upside. I think his best bet is to bulk up and attempt to stick as a 3-4 defensive end because he doesn’t have the quickness or edge speed to consistently win as a 4-3 edge rusher at the next level. He seems to use his hands effectively but he is regularly late off the ball and he doesn’t have the quick-twitch athleticism to compensate for it. He seems to have a good feel for getting his hands up to try to impact passing lanes, but he’s not going to offer much as a pass rusher in a 4-3 alignment.

Carl Davis, DT, Junior- Carl Davis is my guy. Last year I was watching Iowa’s defense and while they didn’t have much talent outside of Micah Hyde #71 stuck out to me consistently. Davis is listed at 6’5”, 315 pounds and is a surprisingly good athlete for such a large man. He was flashing a lot of upside but he was a raw sophomore that needed to work on his pad level, improve his technique and get more playing time. He is projected to be a starter this fall and that might have something to do with him dominating in the spring. While he struggled against the undersized James Ferentz in practice last year, this year Davis is the one doing the dominating thanks to supposedly better pad level. This will be his first year as a starter and he only had 14 tackles and 1.5 TFL last year, but expect a BIG statistical uptick in 2013. Even if he doesn’t total a lot of sacks or tackles for loss you can bet his impact will be felt on Iowa’s defense. He’s likely going to draw consistent double teams which could free up other players to make plays, particularly Iowa’s three senior linebackers. I’m a big Davis fan and if the rumors about his improved pad level are true we could all be in for a treat whenever we watch Iowa play.

James Morris, MLB, Senior- Morris is the middle linebacker for the Hawkeyes and he was 2nd on their team in tackles last year with 113 as well as 1.5 sacks, 7.5 TFL, 4 pass break-ups and 1 interception. Contrary to all of those pass break-ups I don’t think the 6’2”, 240 pound linebacker excels in coverage. He isn’t a great athlete and as a result he doesn’t have great range, and he takes some false steps when asked to drop in coverage. He isn’t bad passing defenders off in zone and gets solid depth, but he’s not going to be a playmaker in coverage in the NFL in my opinion. He seems to be a smart player but doesn’t shed blocks well and gets caught up in the trash too much for my liking versus the run. This was particularly obvious against Michigan State this year, and Le’Veon Bell benefited greatly from it. Morris is a reliable tackler and he’s got a good motor, but I just don’t see a starting NFL linebacker based off of what I’ve seen from him so far. He’s got another year to prove me wrong, but I’m not high on him right now.

Anthony Hitchens, OLB, Senior- Hitchens is the Iowa linebacker I am least familiar with but he led the Hawkeyes in tackles with 124 last year, adding 1 sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. He is listed at 6’1”, 233 pounds and I believe last year was his first as a starter. I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table as a senior and a second year starter, but right now I’m not overly intrigued by him. Still, his production last year meant I needed to try to do my due diligence on him.

Christian Kirksey, OLB, Senior- Kirksey is my favorite linebacker on the Hawkeyes and is one of their better defensive prospects overall in my opinion. I think he is the best athlete of the three senior ‘backers and it shows in coverage. First of all, despite being listed at 6’2”, 235 pounds he looks like a safety on the field which is both a good and a bad thing for a linebacker. I haven’t seen him shed blocks particularly effectively, but he gives good effort in the run game and attacks which I like to see. He’s got better range than Morris and looks more comfortable dropping into zone coverage to me. I’m not sure if he is going to be a starting linebacker in the NFL, but I think he has a better skill set to do it than Morris or Hitchens. We will see if I’m right over the course of the year, but right now Kirksey is my top linebacker on the Hawkeyes.

Illinois Fighting Illini Prospect Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indiana Hoosiers Prospect Preview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nebraska Cornhuskers Prospect Preview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota Golden Gophers Prospect Preview:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Size: Lewan has great size for a tackle prospect. He is listed at 6’7”, 310 and has the frame to add more weight. For as much of a power player as he is he looks pretty light considering he is so tall. He has plenty of strength already, but I think he can get even stronger and he has the frame to add the weight. He also looks like he has pretty long arms which is important for remaining outside at tackle.

Athleticism: Lewan isn’t a special athlete, but he is a good one considering his size. He has shown that he can get to the 2nd level smoothly, I have seen him pull effectively, and he has enough mobility to make an impact on screens. He doesn’t have that “quick-twitch” ability to mirror that the great left tackles have though, and while he has enough lateral agility to hold up at left tackle in the NFL I think his upside is higher on the right side.

Technique: Overall Lewan’s technique is pretty good, but I definitely have some bones to pick with his game. First, I think his hand placement could be better in pass protection. He has a tendency to get grabby once he locks on and will stop his feet after he locks the defender up at times which leads to some embarrassing block sheds if the defender has enough strength to challenge Lewan. Second, he really seems to struggle when he can’t initiate contact quickly after the snap. Because of this I think he likes to reach and overextend to try to engage the defender and that negatively impacts his balance. That and when a defender gets into his pads and has the leverage edge are really the only times he can ever be bull rushed in pass protection. I think he needs to work on replacing his hands when defenders attempt to slap them away, because if he can recover from that and engage the pass rusher he can engulf them with his long arms and strength. However, his ability to recover and anchor is impressive and is one of his strongest assets. I just think some of the holds he gets away with at Michigan are going to be called more consistently in the NFL (there was one play against South Carolina where he had a handful of Clowney’s jersey in his left hand and a handful of Clowney’s dreads in the other).

Pass Protection: This is where you really have to scrutinize Lewan to see if he will be a left tackle or not. I think he can stick at either position, I just think he will be a superior player on the right side. But finding a stud left tackle is hard to do, and finding an adequate one is usually enough to satisfy a NFL team (see the extension the Falcons just gave Sam Baker this offseason) and I think Lewan has the skillset to be an adequate pass protector on the left side. He doesn’t have ideal short, choppy steps in pass protection and his footwork reminds me some of Jake Long when he came out of Michigan. He doesn’t change directions as well as you would like for a blind side pass blocker and that is why he is going to have so much trouble with smaller, quicker pass rushers in the NFL. He matches up fine with bigger, stronger pass rushers, but the explosive, quick guys have given him problems. Like I mentioned earlier, I think he needs to work on his hand placement and not let his hands get so far outside in pass protection. He definitely has a tendency to hold and that becomes a lot more obvious when he lets his hands get outside on the shoulder pads, but in general he keeps them between the numbers. His struggles really start when a pass rusher slaps his hands away or negates his ability to engage him. This was evident in every game I watched of him, whether it was Michael Buchanan (who weighs about 60 pounds less than Lewan), Prince Shembo or Jadeveon Clowney, if they knocked his hands away and prevented him from engaging he had a lot of issues. He was fine against bigger, stronger pass rushers like William Gholston or Clowney when he tried to bull rush him 1 on 1, but he didn’t fare as well against explosive moves, particularly to the inside. He needed help from his left guard or from a running back against Clowney when he went inside on him and I think that is one weakness that Lewan has. He regularly tries to take away the speed rush but that makes him vulnerable to the inside move because he doesn’t have the quickest feet and doesn’t change directions quick enough to recover sometimes. Overall, I think Lewan can be a reliable pass protector, but he’s going to need chips from TE’s and RB’s and occasionally help from his inside guard against more dynamic, explosive pass rushers.

Run Blocking: This is generally the strongest aspect of Lewan’s game. He generates quality push off the ball when asked to block man to man, he has the athleticism to get out of his stance and wall defenders off, and he can move well enough to pull and get to the second level. Much like in pass protection he struggles against quicker defenders though, particularly when he’s pulling or trying to reach a linebacker. Quicker players that can avoid engaging him can give him trouble, and because he isn’t agile or quick enough to react and still make the block there are times he barely gets his hands on the defender before they have essentially avoided his block completely. He’s at his best when he can lock on, drive his legs and generate push off the ball or when he can block down on defensive tackles. He can generate pancakes either way. I don’t think he’s going to be an ideal fit in a zone blocking scheme, but he can execute zone concepts (though I don’t have notes on him as a cut-blocker). There are times when he leans too much and has issues with balance and he gets tossed aside like a rag doll which really concerned me. It doesn’t happen often, but when Michael Buchanan throws Lewan to the ground despite giving up 60 pounds (at least) it makes you wonder. He’s definitely a good run blocker, but it bothers me to see him shed so easily at times.

Overall: Lewan is a quality offensive tackle prospect and I’ve got a 1st round grade on him, but I don’t think he is a franchise left tackle. Jake Long was a superior prospect in my opinion, and I thought he could be an all-pro at right tackle even though he has had a relatively successful career on the left side. Lewan won’t be quite as good as long on the left side and I don’t think he has the same dominant upside on the right either. Still, I think he could be an adequate left tackle and that warrants top 20 consideration even if he ends up being a superior player on the right. He’s going to need help against stud pass rushers, particularly quicker, more explosive guys that can keep him from locking onto them, but he will be a plus run blocker on the left side and shouldn’t need consistent help unless he’s facing a truly elite talent (such as Jadeveon Clowney). He’s going to have his struggles on the left side, but I love his motor and tenacity and that makes me think that even if he doesn’t have the ideal left tackle skill set he will still have a long, successful career either on the left or the right. Perhaps he will never be dominant on either side, but I think he will be effective.

Projection: Top 20. He’s got left tackle upside (even if I think he has more upside on the right) and that will warrant top 20 consideration.

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.

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

QBs:

Geno Smith, West Virginia
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

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

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

RBs:

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

Honorable mention: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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

WRs

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

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

TEs

Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Justice Cunningham, South Carolina

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

OTs

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

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

OGs

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

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

Cs

Barrett Jones, Alabama

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

DEs

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

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

DTs

Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Jesse Williams, Alabama

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

OLBs

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

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

ILBs

Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Kiko Alonso, Oregon

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

CBs

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

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

Safeties

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

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

**Disclaimer** If a player is not in my rankings it likely means I didn’t have time to watch him. Enjoy.

Quarterback:

1-      Geno Smith, WVU

2-      Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

3-      Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

4-      Zac Dysert, Miami (OH)

5-      EJ Manuel, Florida State

6-      Matt Barkley, Southern Cal

7-      Mike Glennon, NC State

8-      Tyler Bray, Tennessee

9-      Landry Jones, Oklahoma

10-   Ryan Griffin, Tulane

11-   Matt Scott, Arizona

12-   Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah

13-   Sean Renfree, Duke

14-   Colby Cameron, Louisiana Tech

15-   Jeff Tuel, Washington State

16-   Nick Florence, Baylor

17-   Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt

18-   Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State

19-   Matt Brown, Illinois State

20-   Nathan Stanley, Southeastern Louisiana

21-   Mike Hermann, RPI

22-   Kyle Essington, Stony Brook

23-   Ryan Radcliff, Central Michigan

24-   Alex Carder, Western Michigan

25-   James Vandenberg, Iowa

26-   Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh

27-   Seth Doege, Texas Tech

28-   Matt McGloin, Penn State

29-   Collin Klein, Kansas State

30-   Kyle Padron, SMU

31-   Casey Brochman, Murray State

Running Backs:

  1. Eddie Lacy, Alabama
  2. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA
  3. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
  4. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State
  5. Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas
  6. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
  7. Christine Michael, Texas A&M
  8. Andre Ellington, Clemson
  9. Benny Cunningham, Middle Tennessee State
  10. Stepfan Taylor, Stanford
  11. Mike Gillislee, Florida
  12. Kenjon Barner, Oregon
  13. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
  14. Jawan Jamison, Rutgers
  15. Cierre Wood, Notre Dame
  16. George Winn, Cincinnati
  17. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh
  18. Michael Ford, LSU
  19. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
  20. Kerwynn Williams, Utah State
  21. Mike James, Miami
  22. Chris Thompson, Florida State
  23. Spencer Ware, LSU
  24. Knile Davis, Arkansas
  25. Theo Riddick, Notre Dame
  26. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
  27. Ontario McCalebb, Auburn
  28. Miguel Maysonet, Stony Brook
  29. Curtis McNeal, USC
  30. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State

Wide Receivers:

1-      Keenan Allen, California

2-      Robert Woods, USC

3-      Tavon Austin, West Virginia

4-      Deandre Hopkins, Clemson

5-      Cordarelle Patterson, Tennessee

6-      Markus Wheaton, Oregon State

7-      Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech

8-      Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

9-      Terrance Williams, Baylor

10-   Justin Hunter, Tennessee

11-   Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech

12-   Chris Harper, Kansas State

13-   Ryan Swope, Texas A&M

14-   Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas

15-   Kenny Stills, Oklahoma

16-   Marquise Goodwin, Texas

17-   Tavarres King, Georgia

18-   Ace Sanders, South Carolina

19-   Aaron Dobson, Marshall

20-   Uzoma Nwachukwu, Texas A&M

21-   Conner Vernon, Duke

22-   Corey Fuller, Virginia Tech

23-   Denard Robinson, Michigan

24-   Josh Boyce, TCU

25-   Zach Rogers, Tennessee

26-   Aaron Mellette, Elon

27-   Jasper Collins, Mount Union

28-   Rodney Smith, Florida State

29-   Quentin Sims, Tennessee Martin

30-   TJ Moe, Missouri

31-   Erik Highsmith, North Carolina

32-   Emory Blake, Auburn

33-   Justin Brown, Oklahoma

34-   Chad Bumphis, Mississippi State

35-   Alec Lemon, Syracuse

36-   Marcus Davis, Virginia Tech

37-   Marquess Wilson, Washington State

38-   Keenan Davis, Iowa

39-   Brandon Kaufman, Eastern Washington

40-   MarQueis Gray, Minnesota

Tight Ends:

1-      Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame

2-      Zach Ertz, Stanford

3-      Travis Kelce, Cincinnati

4-      Gavin Escobar, San Diego State

5-      Jordan Reed, Florida

6-      Vance McDonald, Rice

7-      Levine Toilolo, Stanford

8-      Ryan Otten, San Jose State

9-      Nick Kasa, Colordao

10-   Dion Sims, Michigan State

11-   Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State

12-   Joseph Fauria, UCLA

13-   Mychal Rivera, Tennessee

14-   Chris Gragg, Arkansas

15-   Justice Cunningham, South Carolina

16-   Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn

17-   Michael Williams, Alabama

Offensive Tackles:

1-      Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

2-      Eric Fisher, Central Michigan

3-      DJ Fluker, Alabama

4-      Lane Johnson, Oklahoma

5-      Menelik Watson, Florida State

6-      Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

7-      Dallas Thomas, Tennessee

8-      Brennan Williams, North Carolina

9-      Reid Fragel, Ohio State

10-   Vinston Painter, Virginia Tech

11-   Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin

12-   Oday Aboushi, Virginia

13-   Jordan Mills, Louisiana Tech

14-   Xavier Nixon, Florida

15-   Chris Faulk, LSU

Offensive Guards:

1-      Chance Warmack, Alabama

2-      Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

3-      Larry Warford, Kentucky

4-      Justin Pugh, Syracuse

5-      Kyle Long, Oregon

6-      Hugh Thornton, Illinois

7-      David Bakhtiari, Colorado

8-      Brian Winters, Kent State

9-      David Quessenberry, San Jose State

10-   Alvin Bailey, Arkansas

11-   Garrett Gilkey, Chadron State

12-   J.C. Tretter, Cornell

13-   Earl Watford, James Madison

14-   Jeff Baca, UCLA

Centers:

1-      Travis Frederick, Wisconsin

2-      Brian Schwenke, California

3-      Barrett Jones, Alabama

4-      Khaled Holmes, USC

5-      Dalton Freeman, Clemson

6-      TJ Johnson, South Carolina

Defensive Ends:

1-      Bjoern Werner, Florida State

2-      Tank Carradine, Florida State

3-      Ezekiel Ansah, BYU

4-      Datone Jones, UCLA

5-      Corey Lemonier, Auburn

6-      Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

7-      Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky

8-      Alex Okafor, Texas

9-      Margus Hunt, SMU

10-   Cornelius Washington, Georgia

11-   William Gholston, Michigan State

12-   Michael Buchanan, Illinois

13-   Sam Montgomery, LSU

14-   Malliciah Goodman, Clemson

15-   David Bass, Missouri Western State

16-   Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

17-   Armonty Bryant, East Central

18-   Tourek Williams, FIU

19-   Lavar Edwards, LSU

20-   Devin Taylor, South Carolina

21-   Mike Catapano, Princeton

22-   Stansly Maponga, TCU

23-   Joe Kruger, Utah

24-   Wes Horton, USC

25-   Meshak Williams, Kansas State

Defensive Tackles:

1-      Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

2-      Star Lotulelei, Utah

3-      Jesse Williams, Alabama

4-      Sylvester Williams, North Carolina

5-      Shariff Floyd, Florida

6-      Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State

7-      Kawann Short, Purdue

8-      Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State

9-      John Jenkins, Georgia

10-   Bennie Logan, LSU

11-   Akeem Spence, Illinois

12-   Jordan Hill, Penn State

13-   Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin

14-   Cory Grissom, South Florida

15-   Josh Boyd, Mississippi State

16-   TJ Barnes, Georgia Tech

17-   Chris Jones, Bowling Green

18-   Everett Dawkins, Florida State

19-   Will Pericak, Colorado

20-   Anthony McCloud, Florida State

Outside Linebacker:

1-      Barkevious Mingo, LSU

2-      Dion Jordan, Oregon

3-      Jarvis Jones, Georgia

4-      Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi

5-      Alec Ogletree, Georgia

6-      Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

7-      Sio Moore, Connecticut

8-      Jelani Jenkins, Florida

9-      DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina

10-   Zaviar Gooden, Missouri

11-   Sean Porter, Texas A&M

12-   Chase Thomas, Stanford

13-   Trevardo Williams, Connecticut

14-   Ty Powell, Harding

15-   Brandon Magee, Arizona State

16-   John Simon, Ohio State

17-   Gerald Hodges, Penn State

18-   Jake Knott, Iowa State

19-   Lerentee McCray, Florida

20-   Michael Mauti, Penn State

Inside Linebacker:

1-      Arthur Brown, Kansas State

2-      Manti Te’o, Notre Dame

3-      Kevin Minter, LSU

4-      Kiko Alonso, Oregon

5-      Kevin Reddick, North Carolina

6-      Jon Bostic, Florida

7-      AJ Klein, Iowa State

8-      Nico Johnson, Alabama

9-      Keith Pough, Howard

10-   Vince Williams, Florida State

Cornerback:

1-      Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

2-      Dee Milliner, Alabama

3-      Jamar Taylor, Boise State

4-      DJ Hayden, Houston

5-      Jordan Poyer, Oregon State

6-      Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

7-      Desmond Trufant, Washington

8-      Darius Slay, Mississippi State

9-      Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut

10-   Logan Ryan, Rutgers

11-   David Amerson, NC State

12-   Leon McFadden, San Diego State

13-   Nickell Robey, USC

14-   Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut

15-   Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

16-   Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana

17-   BW Webb, William & Mary

18-   Will Davis, Utah State

19-   Brandon Mcgee, Miami

20-   Dax Swanson, Sam Houston State

21-   Sanders Commings, Georgia

22-   Terry Hawthorne, Illinois

23-   Nigel Malone, Kansas State

24-   Steve Williams, California

25-   Aaron Hester, UCLA

26-   Tharold Simon, LSU

27-   Johnny Adams, Michigan State

28-   Josh Johnson, Purdue

29-   Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech

30-   Mike Edwards, Hawaii

31-   Micah Hyde, Iowa

 

Safeties:

1-      Kenny Vacarro, Texas

2-      Jonathan Cyprien, FIU

3-      Eric Reid, LSU

4-      DJ Swearinger, South Carolina

5-      Bacarri Rambo, Georgia

6-      Phillip Thomas, Fresno State

7-      Matt Elam, Florida

8-      TJ McDonald, USC

9-      Shawn Williams, Georgia

10-   Josh Evans, Florida

11-   Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

12-   Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

13-   JJ Wilcox, Georgia Southern

14-   Duke Williams, Nevada

15-   Earl Wolfe, NC State

16-   John Boyett, Oregon

17-   Cooper Taylor, Richmond

18-   Robert Lester, Alabama

19-   Damion Stafford, Nebraska

20-   Zeke Motta, Notre Dame

21-   Brandan Bishop, NC State

22-   Rashard Hall, Clemson

23-   Jordan Kovacs, Michigan

24-   Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami

25-   Jawanza Starling, USC