Tag Archive: Trent Richardson


I obviously don’t have a vote for the Heisman trophy, but if I did this is how my ballot would look. I will start with honorable mentions but explain why they were ultimately not one of my three finalists:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson:
Analysis: While Watkins was one of the most electrifying players in the country I think that Clemson’s late season struggles that are almost expected at this point hurt his potential candidacy. It’s hard enough for any player that doesn’t play running back or quarterback to garner significant attention for the Heisman, but being a freshman on a team that struggled just as the Heisman race started to heat up. That doesn’t mean Watkins didn’t have a fantastic season though. He totaled 78 receptions, 1,159 yards (14.86 ypc), 11 touchdowns, 31 rushing attempts, 229 yards, 0 touchdowns and 683 more yards on kick returns with a 26.27 yard average per return plus another touchdown. He had 2,083 total yards on only 137 touches and he was only a freshman (he also had 2 punt returns for 12 yards). So while I would be very surprised to see him involved in significant Heisman considerations this year I think he will get more and more as a sophomore and junior barring unforeseen circumstances.

Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State:
Analysis: Some people were giving Brandon Weeden a lot of love for the Heisman earlier this year but I think Justin Blackmon is the top Heisman candidate on that team. However, they have plenty of talent on that offense with Weeden and Joseph Randle helping to make that Oklahoma State offense the juggernaut it has become which hurts his Heisman considerations. However he still had an incredible season with 113 receptions, 1,336 yards (11.82 ypc) and 15 touchdowns. He would have been hard pressed to match his massively impressive 1,782 yard 20 touchdown season from a year ago, but 100+ receptions, 1,300+ yards and 15 touchdowns is more than a lot of players produce in their career and he has put up two consecutive seasons with those same numbers. Unfortunately I don’t think it will be nearly enough for him to be a Heisman finalist.

David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech:
Analysis: David Wilson has been flying under the radar quite a bit this year which is baffling because he was leading the country in rushing for a significant portion of the season and even now he is only 132 yards behind the leader Montee Ball. He was the engine that made Virginia Tech’s offense go and really helped Logan Thomas develop this year in his first as a starting quarterback. He had 1,627 yards (6.12 ypc), 9 touchdowns and 21 receptions, 126 yards and 1 TD. He had a great season, and while I personally expect him to declare for the draft, he definitely warrants a little more Heisman consideration that he has been getting. Virginia Tech’s collapse against Clemson in the ACC Championship Game certainly doesn’t help, but I think he warrants honorable mention.

Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State:
Analysis: I have been a pretty outspoken critic of Boise State and TCU for the past couple of years. I felt they were overrated and wouldn’t have been in BCS Bowl consideration had they played in tougher conferences. To their credit they have proven me wrong by consistently winning when they do get to BCS Bowls, but to my credit Boise State in particular has struggled to finish their regular season undefeated the past two years despite unimpressive competition outside of a tough out of conference game to start the season. That brings me to Kellen Moore’s potential Heisman contention. Moore has had an incredible career and had another spectacular season this year despite losing his top two playmakers at wide receiver. He threw for 3,507 yards, completed 74.1% of his passes, and totaled 41 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Unfortunately for him for the second year in a row his kicker couldn’t finish a game late despite the opportunity to do so and Boise State lost a game they probably should have won. That definitely hurt his Heisman consideration, and while I don’t think he should be a finalist this year I do think it’s worth considering that he’s put Boise State in the position to go undefeated for last two years but his kicker let him down. And that hurt his chances for Heisman, fairly or unfairly.

Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal:
Analysis: Barkley would have been my 6th finalist if I could have listed 6, but he sits just outside my top five for a few reasons. First, to me the Heisman has clearly become an award that goes to the player who does the most with the least and makes his team a contender or a top team despite it. That is why Cam Newton won last year, and that is why Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck are front-runners this year. This hurts Barkley because USC has an abundance of talent on offense, specifically at wide receiver with stand-outs in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. Fair or unfair, that hurts his candidacy just like other circumstances that are fair or unfair hurt the other candidates I mentioned. However, for all the Southern Cal fans that are angry about this they should consider this. Would being a Heisman finalist and potentially winning the Heisman make Barkley more or less likely to come back for his senior season? The obvious answer is that it would make him more likely to leave early, so while this probably feels like yet another slight consider the silver lining that it could help lead Barkley back to USC for his fourth season as a starter.

Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama:
Analysis: Trent Richardson had a great season this year, but I don’t think he is the Heisman winner. He did have a great season with 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns plus 27 receptions, 327 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving. He was definitely the engine that made Alabama’s offense go, but the unit that made Alabama’s team go was without a doubt their defense. Richardson supported them with plenty of scoring as evidenced by his touchdown production, but Alabama would not be in the National Championship game without their defense. And the fact that Richardson is a Heisman finalist proves that Alabama has recruited some very talented running backs, but Richardson’s performance could have been replicated by other players in the country in my opinion. Not by many, but I think his production could have been mimicked by other players. That hurts his Heisman candidacy ultimately in my mind.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin:
Analysis: I have had the opportunity to see Montee Ball play live in Camp Randall twice this season against Nebraska and Penn State and it has always been a pleasure. He is deserving of Heisman candidacy but I don’t think he deserves to win over the other players I have listed as my top three finalists. That isn’t to say Ball hasn’t had a fantastic season because he has. Contrary to literally every report I have seen Montee actually has 39 touchdowns, not 38. He led the country with 1,759 yards (6.4 ypc) and 32 rushing scores, plus 20 receptions, 255 yards and 6 touchdowns. Now, that totals 38 which is what everyone has been reporting from ESPN to my friends that are Badger fans. What they are all forgetting is that Montee Ball has thrown for one touchdown this year. He is 2/2 on the season for 57 yards and 1 touchdown to Russell Wilson. Why isn’t this being mentioned? He has 39 TOTAL touchdowns, not 38. This season is worth serious Heisman consideration, but the help he has had with a NFL offensive line, a great quarterback in Russell Wilson and help at receiver with Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis. He is a great player, but with all the help he has had around him I don’t think he will end up winning it. Is that fair? I don’t know, but that is how I perceive the Heisman being voted and that is why I don’t think Montee will win it.

And now the finalists…

3. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU:
Analysis: It hurts me to list Mathieu as my #1 finalist, but I don’t think he will end up winning the Heisman no matter how much I like him as a player. He is my favorite player in the entire country and I have not been shy about saying this. He’s a fantastic player, and if anyone makes the argument that Trent Richardson had the greatest impact on a top team in the country I would immediately disagree. Tyrann Mathieu has had the biggest impact of anyone on LSU’s undefeated season out of any of the players on that team. Time and time again whenever LSU’s offense struggled to score points he would force turnovers or return punts and either set them up with great field position or just take the ball into the end zone himself. There is no question in my mind that Mathieu warrants a ton of Heisman consideration, but ultimately I think his suspension and the talent around him on defense will keep him from winning it.

2. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford:
Analysis: When you think about the “what player has done the most with the least” rule that I think is a significant factor in Heisman voting Andrew Luck has to be one of the first people that pops into your head. Yes, he has a pretty good team around him. He has a pretty good defense, a strong offensive line and running game, and three tight ends that have legitimate NFL futures. However, he only has one wide receiver that can stretch the field vertically in Chris Owusu and he missed two games with injuries and struggled to stay healthy all year. He also only had 35 receptions for 376 yards and 2 touchdowns which is hardly the definition of stretching the field. Luck and Stanford struggled to make big plays down the field simply because Luck didn’t have any legitimate downfield targets to throw to, and defenses took advantage of that which helped prevent Stanford from going undefeated. However, despite his lack of playmakers at receiver Luck still had a terrific season throwing for 3,170 yards, completing 70% of his passes, throwing for 35 touchdowns, only 9 interceptions, and adding 153 yards and 2 more touchdowns on the ground. That’s a terrific season, and I think he warrants a ton of consideration for the Heisman… but I don’t think he will be the winner.

And the winner is…

1. Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor:
Analysis: Robert Griffin has had an amazing season in every sense of the word. He has taken a Baylor team that has been a perennial doormat in the Big 12 and led them to a top 15 finish in the BCS Standings with one more game to play against Washington in the Alamo Bowl. He has been terrific this season and has really opened my eyes to just how far he has come as a NFL prospect. But that’s not all he has done this year. He has passed for 3,998 yards, completed 72.4% of his passes, 36 touchdowns, only 6 interceptions, and has also rushed for 644 yards and 9 more touchdowns. He totaled 4,642 yards passing and rushing as well as 45 total touchdowns with one game still left to play. This is all in spite of his defense struggling to keep the opposing offense from putting a lot of points on the board and not having a ton of talent on offense outside of standout receiver Kendall Wright. He has receivers who can threaten teams deep, but there have been plenty of drops from guys like Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Lanear Sampson all year. Griffin took an average team and made them significantly better with key plays, drives and a fantastic stat line. He figures to be the Heisman winner, and I think that makes a lot of sense.

Thanks for reading, hopefully you enjoyed my thoughts. I’d love to hear reactions to this because I’m sure my thoughts aren’t the same as everyone else so please leave comments!

–Tom

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1- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama*: Grade: Top 15 Overall
2- Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin*: Grade: Early 2nd Round
3- Lamar Miller, RB, Miami*: Grade: Early 2nd Round
4- David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech*: Grade: Early 2nd Round
5- LaMichael James, RB, Oregon*: Grade: Early/Mid 2nd round
6- Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple*: Grade: 3rd round
7- Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas*: Grade: 3rd round
8- Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: Grade: 3rd/4th round
9- Robert Turbin, RB, Utah State*: Grade: 3rd/4th round
10- Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State: Grade: 4th round
11- Tauren Poole, RB, Tennessee: Grade: 4th round
12- Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati: Grade: 4th/5th round
13- Brandon Bolden, RB, Mississippi: Grade: 5th round
14- Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: Grade: 5th round
15- Vick Ballard, RB, Mississippi State: Grade: 5th/6th round
16- Jeff Demps, RB, Florida: Grade: 6th round
17- Davin Meggett, RB, Maryland: Grade: 6th round
18- Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky: Grade: 6th/7th round
19- Marc Tyler, RB, Southern Cal: Grade: 7th round
20- Lennon Creer, RB, Louisiana Tech: Grade: 7th round
21- Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
22- Antwon Bailey, RB, Syracuse: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
23- Adonis Thomas, RB, Toledo: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
24- Victor Anderson, RB, Louisville: Grade: 7th round/UDFA
25- Ryan Houston, RB, North Carolina: Grade: UDFA

My First Mock Draft of the Year

1. Indianapolis- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford:
Analysis: It’s clear to everyone just how valuable Peyton Manning was to the Colts now. He’s practically an MVP candidate and he hasn’t even played a game. The Colts have since fired their defensive coordinator and while it’s arguable the Colts could use defensive upgrades there is no one in the draft that warrants a selection of Andrew Luck. Some people think that the Colts can’t have Luck and Manning on the same roster, but I disagree. Luck may be NFL ready, but you can’t convince me that he would be better off playing as a rookie instead of sitting for a year and learning from Manning. Learning from a MVP and a Super Bowl champion your first year on the job will only make you better.
2. Minnesota- Matt Kalil, OT, Southern Cal:
Analysis: The Vikings made a bold and, in my opinion, a great move releasing Bryant McKinnie. Leslie Frazier put his foot down by making it clear that even a quality LT will get cut if he shows up out of shape and isn’t ready to contribute to the team. However, that didn’t work out that well for the Vikings this year as Charlie Johnson has not been a worthwhile replacement in any sense of the word. He’s been consistently beaten as he’s tried to protect McNabb’s and Ponder’s blind side this year. LT is as big a need as any of the Vikings many needs, and it would be very easy to fix should Kalil declare for the draft this year. He’s the best left tackle in the country, and don’t forget that he was talented enough to keep an eventual top 10 pick in Tyron Smith at right tackle as a junior for the Trojans. Kalil has the potential to start at left tackle from day one, and that makes him very appealing to a team like the Vikings.
3. St. Louis- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State:
Analysis: The Rams have been assembling some pieces on offense in recent years. I’m not sold on Sam Bradford yet, but he is clearly the quarterback of the future for the Rams. With Steven Jackson continuing to play well, Lance Kendricks coming on board in the 2nd round last year, and by acquiring Brandon Lloyd at the trade deadline the Rams have made surrounding Bradford with some weapons a priority. Lloyd is a quality target, but getting him a true #1 target with plenty of upside is something they still need to do. That is where Blackmon comes in. Blackmon is my #1 WR in this draft class, he has very good hands (though he does have concentration lapses at times resulting in drops), fantastic body control and he is very hard to tackle once he has the ball in his hands. He’s the top receiver in this class, and the Rams must only evaluate his character to determine whether he will continue to improve and if he will stay out of trouble once he gets his first NFL paycheck.
4. Jacksonville- Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU:
Analysis: The Jaguars have had a good defense this year and they really need offensive help, but one spot they could use help at is cornerback. Looking at the players available at this point I think Claiborne warrants the pick here more than any of them. Matt Barkley might have a higher grade, but with Blaine Gabbert on the roster I don’t think they will even consider a quarterback this early. Some will disagree with that based on Gabbert’s struggles this year, but he shouldn’t have been playing yet anyways. He needed a year to learn on the bench and he didn’t get it, and as a result the Jaguars have risked stunting his development. Claiborne is ready to come in and play right away and he is easily the most impressive cornerback in the country. He has very fluid hips, he turns and runs well, he has very good speed, he’s very athletic, and he has fantastic ball skills and return ability once he has the ball in his hands. He’s a playmaker at corner with great size, long arms and good instincts. It really speaks to LSU’s talent in the secondary that they may have a first round pick from their defensive backfield three years in a row if Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu are drafted in round one in 2012 and 2013.
5. Carolina- Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa:
Analysis: The Panthers could use another wide receiver here and they have serious needs on defense, particularly at defensive tackle. However, Jeff Otah has not been particularly impressive when I’ve watched him and he has had serious durability issues since being drafted by the Panthers. Jordan Gross has been a mainstay on the Panthers offensive line for years but he is 31 years old now. He won’t be around forever, and drafting an eventual replacement for him as well as a player who could replace Otah at right tackle should he continue to struggle with injuries. Reiff might not be ready to start at LT right away, but he definitely has NFL LT ability.
6. Miami- Matt Barkley, QB, Southern Cal:
Analysis: Miami may end up trading up from this spot to assure themselves a shot at Barkley should he actually declare. I think he will after the fantastic season he’s had, but there is a possibility that he could come back and attempt to lead USC to a BCS bowl game. However, if he does come out he is definitely NFL ready as a result of his three years of experience starting in a pro style offense at USC. He is a NFL ready quarterback that could play day one much like Luck if necessary. Ideally he wouldn’t because I believe that quarterbacks should be developed patiently, but that’s just my opinion. Miami hasn’t had a legitimate quarterback since Marino, so hopefully Barkley can break that trend. Again, don’t rule out Miami moving up on draft day if they are in a similar position as they are in this mock to go up and get the quarterback they want.
7. Washington- Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor:
Analysis: Washington could go any variety of ways here, but quarterback is one of their most pressing needs. Rex Grossman and John Beck are not long term solutions by any means, and Robert Griffin has been one of the most impressive players, not just quarterbacks, in the entire country this season. He’s very mobile and his passing has developed vastly every year that he has been at Baylor and his athleticism would be utilized brilliantly by Mike Shanahan and his offense. He’s got as much upside as any quarterback in this class thanks to his passing ability and his athleticism, he just has to be developed appropriately. It’s a tricky thing to do, but Shanahan might be the man for the job.
8. Arizona- Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford:
Analysis: The Cardinals have huge needs along the offensive line but particularly at left tackle. They haven’t been able to adequately fill that position for years, and Levi Brown has not been holding up well at all. He has been flat out abused at times this year, and they don’t have an adequate replacement on the roster right now. I personally am not sold on Jonathan Martin being a quality left tackle yet as I think he might be a more ideal fit at right tackle, but I do think he will be drafted quite high because of his potential projection to the blind side.
9. Philadelphia- Luke Kuechly, ILB, Boston College:
Analysis: Kuechly continues to impress everyone who watches him. It’s hard to find significant flaws in his game and he has been doing amazing things at the linebacker position for Boston College. He’s a fantastic linebacker and is easily the most NFL ready linebacker that is eligible for the draft this year. He is only a junior so while he is absolutely ready for the jump to the next level it’s not a sure thing that he will leave early. However, the Eagles should be praying that he does because he is the perfect solution for their middle linebacker position. He’s a top 10 lock in my opinion because he is going to test off the charts in interviews and while he might not be an elite athlete with freakish ability he is very arguably the best tackler in the entire country and is as fundamentally sound and reliable as any linebacker prospect in the nation. The Eagles need a player like him in the middle of their defense as bad as anyone, and getting the chance to pick him #9 overall would be a godsend for their franchise.
10. Cleveland- Quentin Coples, DE, North Carolina:
Analysis: Cleveland seems to have hit home with Jabaal Sheard thus far but they don’t have a lot of pass rush talent opposite him and while they do have talent at defensive tackle I don’t think they have a defensive tackle with legitimate pass rush talent inside. Coples projects best to DE in the NFL, and while I’m not sure if he would be at RE or LE for the Browns since I wouldn’t want to move Sheard from where he has had success, I think he projects well to DE at the next level. Ideally he would be at left end, but on top of the value he presents as a starting left end he would also be able to slide inside to defensive tackle in pass rushing situations. He is a ‘tweener to some extent, but I think that works to his advantage in this situation. He would be able to be an every down defensive end, but he has such impressive size and strength that I think he could shift inside and use his athleticism to his advantage to create pressure from the interior in obvious passing situations. That would give the Browns some scheme flexibility and boost Coples’ value even more.
11. Kansas City- Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma:
Analysis: There is significant chance that Cassel will still be the Chiefs quarterback of the future, but he will be 30 next May and there is no indication that he is going to be durable for the long haul. Cassel hasn’t proven to be a franchise quarterback to any extent and the Chiefs front office has been making concerted efforts to surround him with weapons. He has Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin at his disposal now. The effects haven’t been exactly what the Chiefs desired. Landry Jones might not be my favorite quarterback in this class, but he has quality size, arm strength and accuracy. I don’t think he’s a franchise guy and I’m not sure he will win a Super Bowl without a quality supporting cast and a great defense, but that’s just my opinion.
12. Seattle- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama:
Analysis: Richardson is a top talent, but running backs don’t always go in the top five. I would argue that he’s on a similar level as McFadden and perhaps even Adrian Peterson as a prospect, but running backs have to make a fantastic case to go in the top 5-10 picks. There isn’t an incredible amount of demand for a running back in the top five, and outside of Washington and Cleveland there isn’t a ton of demand for running backs in the top 10. Shanahan doesn’t have a track record of picking running backs early on anyways, so I don’t think he would pick Richardson at 7 in this scenario unless he thought he was a truly elite talent. That, in my opinion, would cause Richardson to slide a bit. Seattle might not need him that much given Marshawn Lynch’s re-emergence to a degree, but with all of the highly touted underclassmen quarterbacks off the board I think that Pete Carroll would go in another direction other than quarterback. Richardson would help take a ton of pressure off of Tarvaris Jackson by combining him with Lynch in the running game. This might not be the most likely pick or the best pick for need for the Seahawks, but I do think Carroll is a man who could appreciate the immense value of this selection.
13. San Diego- Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia:
Analysis: San Diego has been searching for an upgrade at outside linebacker since they lost Shawne Merriman to injury years ago. Larry English hasn’t panned out like they thought he would (I personally thought he would be better as a RE in a 4-3, or perhaps only as a situational pass rusher in nickel packages) and they haven’t been able to upgrade him yet. Enter Jarvis Jones, one of the best pass rushers in the entire country. There’s no guarantee that he will declare as he is only a redshirt sophomore, but he has as much upside as a pass rusher as anyone in the nation. He’s been dominant rushing the passer this year and really helped ease the loss of Justin Houston to the NFL and made up for Cornelius Washington’s absence due to suspension at times this season. He’s got tremendous upside and while he needs to get bigger and stronger before he is NFL ready if he did declare I think he would demand immediate top 20 consideration.
14. Tampa Bay- Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame:
Analysis: This might not be Tampa Bay’s biggest need, but Josh Freeman has a solid running back in LeGarrette Blount, a talented tight end in Kellen Winslow and a potential #1 WR in Mike Williams, but I think he could use another weapon at wide receiver. Floyd is a good value at #14 overall and has the potential to go higher than this, but his character concerns might drop him a little bit. The Bucs haven’t shied away from character concerns before, especially at wide receiver where they picked the potentially troubled Williams who quit the Syracuse football team and still went in the fourth round. Floyd has had his issues, but he is a talented, big bodied receiver who would really compliment Mike Williams’ explosiveness and burst well.
15. Buffalo- David DeCastro, OG, Stanford:
Analysis: Buffalo needs help along the offensive line and David DeCastro is as good as it gets for an offensive guard prospect. Top 15 picks at OG are extremely rare, but this might be one instance where it could happen. DeCastro is a fantastic guard prospect and while he is only a junior he is ready for the next level. The Bills have a few needs along their roster, but I think that DeCastro would fill a significant need at guard for the Bills.
16. Tennessee- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama:  
Analysis: The Titans have a quality corner in Cortland Finnegan, but they don’t have much talent beyond him. The Titans have other needs they could address here, but picking up a corner like Kirkpatrick who absolutely has top 15 ability makes a lot of sense in my opinion. The Titans have bigger issues than corner thanks to Finnegan’s ability, but getting another quality corner to start opposite him can help the defensive line, and if they are able to boost their pass rush and help out the secondary the Titans defense would really improve considerably. They need upgrades on defense and on offense, but picking up a very good corner like Kirkpatrick can’t hurt here.
17. New York Jets- Ronnell Lewis, OLB, Oklahoma:
Analysis: The Jets are one of the most creative teams as far as blitzing schemes thanks to Rex Ryan and they have enough talent on the back end to get away with some intricate blitz packages. However, their secondary and defense overall would benefit considerably if they could get a better pass rush out of their base packages. Ronnell Lewis has been one of the better pass rushers in the country and while he is still young he has plenty of upside and the Jets have shown that they have at least some ability to get production out of athletically talented players, most notably Aaron Maybin who looked like an absolute bust on the Bills but has tallied 5 sacks since signing on with the Jets. Lewis is an athletic specimen as well, and if he is developed properly I think he can be a quality pass rusher for the Jets.
18. Denver- Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia:
Analysis: The Broncos defense has really stepped up this season and Von Miller in particular has been playing not only like a Pro-Bowler, but like an All-Pro. He has 10.5 sacks in only 11 games which is almost unheard of for a rookie. The Broncos defense is definitely on the right track, but they could probably use an upgrade at corner. Champ Bailey is getting older but still playing well, however they don’t have an abundance of talent opposite him. I have been high on Minnifield since I watched him last season as a junior, and I think he has legitimate 1st round ability. Any corner that gets a chance to learn from Bailey will benefit considerably from it, but I think Minnifield would help improve Denver’s back end considerably once he was deemed ready to start.
19. New York Giants- Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina:  
Analysis: The Giants may not have as serious of a need at linebacker as it seemed at the beginning of the year if Mark Herzlich proves to be the man for the job, but they have had serious issues with injuries and inconsistency at linebacker for years, so adding some talent to the fold isn’t a bad idea. Brown is extremely athletic and has significant upside and would fit very well on a Giants defense that likes an athletic front 7 and enjoys applying pressure with their front four and linebackers.
20. Dallas- Mark Barron, S, Alabama:
Analysis: Dallas has had issues at safety since they had Roy Williams starting at safety years and years ago and they’ve never really solved that problem. Mark Barron is one of the only safeties in the class that potentially warrants a 1st round pick. I was not high on him after his junior season, but he has shown much more ability in coverage than I expected to see this year. If he truly projects well to the NFL from a coverage standpoint then he definitely warrants 1st round consideration and the Cowboys would be wise to consider selecting him here.
21. Cleveland (F/ATL)- Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State:
Analysis: Cleveland’s offensive line could use an upgrade. Joe Thomas is a stud, but opposite him there isn’t anything special. Mike Adams has some potential as a left tackle, but I think he could be a good or a very good right tackle. He’s a local guy having gone to Ohio State and he would fill a need for them up front.
22. Cincinnati (F/OAK)- Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin:
Analysis: Cincinnati could use significant help along the interior of their offensive line and getting a center like Konz would be ideal. He’s easily the best draft eligible center for the 2012 draft and if he is healthy enough to play in the Big 10 Championship Game or whatever bowl game Wisconsin plays in then I think it is possible that he will declare. Regardless, if he decides to come out he is the rare center that warrants a 1st round selection.
23. Cincinnati- Alfonso Dennard, CB, Nebraska:
Analysis: Cincinnati has some talent at corner, but when they lost Jonathan Joseph to the Houston Texans in free agency it definitely hurt their secondary. Dennard is a physical corner and would help replace Joseph in the secondary. I don’t think he has the ball skills that Joseph has by any means, but he would definitely help shore up the hole he left at corner.
24. Chicago- Zebrie Sanders, OT, Florida State:
Analysis: Chicago has been searching for a left tackle for years and they haven’t found it yet. They drafted Chris Williams to play there and he has only recently showed enough to start inside at guard. J’Marcus Webb was certainly not drafted to be the future at left tackle but he has spent far too much time starting at that spot. He’s not a left tackle and he has struggled at the spot. Zebrie Sanders may not have been considered by many to be a starting left tackle but he pleasantly surprised a lot of people when he slid over to the left side of the line to replace Andrew Datko for Florida State this season. I think he has NFL potential at left tackle and if Chicago agrees then they have to pick him. Getting bookend tackles for an offensive line that has been one of the league’s worst for years would be a huge step in the right direction for the Bears organization.
25. Detroit- Cordy Glenn, OG, Georgia:
Analysis: Detroit seems to be a team that drafts primarily for value and doesn’t reach for needs, preferring to get as much talent as possible. I like that drafting strategy, but unfortunately it led to them ignoring the offensive line and the cornerback position last year. This year I think they need to make sure they address the offensive line, and Cordy Glenn is one of the best remaining offensive linemen on the board at this point in the draft. He is a huge, powerful run blocker but I don’t think he can stick outside at tackle. That makes me think he could be a very good offensive guard, and the Lions could use the push up front.
26. Houston- Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis:
Analysis: Dontari Poe is a raw prospect in my opinion but at a listed height and weight of 6’5”, 350 pounds he definitely has immense upside. Houston likes to penetrate upfield and cause havoc with their defense, and Poe could definitely help them do that. I personally he might eventually be a better fit in a 4-3 defense if he is able to improve his pass rush moves to collapse the pocket more versus the pass. However, a lot of teams will see his size and strength and assume he is ready to be a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. As we saw with Albert Haynesworth size and strength don’t automatically mean he can play nose tackle in that defense, so we need to be careful assuming that he is a great fit in that scheme. However, my opinion has never stopped NFL teams from doing what they want to do, so Poe could very well end up on a 3-4 team after all.
27. New England- Devon Still, DT, Penn State:
Analysis: The Patriots have plenty of talent in their front seven, but they still struggle to rush the passer at times. This might have to do with their transition from a 3-4 defense, but I think that Still projects well to the DT position in a 4-3 defense. He has had a fantastic senior year and could easily go higher than this, but it’s hard to figure out exactly where everyone’s stock is at this point. If he did make it this far I would not put it past the Patriots to take advantage of the value picking Still here would present.
28. New England (F/ NO)- Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina:
Analysis: New England has a lot of quick wide receivers but they don’t have a big, physical receiver. Perhaps they don’t want one, but I think it hurts them a bit in the red zone when they have to rely on quick routes from their wide receivers and throwing to tight ends in one on one coverage. At the very least, having a big, powerful wide receiver like Alshon Jeffrey couldn’t really hurt them in the red zone or overall. I worry about his ability to create consistent separation in the NFL, but he has fantastic size, very long arms and great hands. He’s got plenty of upside, but his stock has slipped this year due to inconsistent production partially because of him and partially because of transitions at the quarterback position. Jeffrey could easily go higher than this, but I’m not convinced he’s going to be a top 5-10 pick at this point.
29. Baltimore- Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State:
Analysis: Burfict has top 20 talent thanks to his combination of size, athleticism and his electrifying hitting ability. However, he has some character concerns that will probably scare a few teams away. The elite teams in the NFL often have the locker room presence to take risks on a certain number of these types of players. Burfict is such a player, and with Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and other strong locker room leaders the Ravens are one of the teams that could take a risk on Burfict. In fact, I think Ray Lewis would be a very intriguing mentor for Burfict because Lewis is a big hitter with great toughness and leadership capability. Burfict could learn a lot from Lewis and it might also help improve his reputation. Not only that, but Burfict would be the obvious heir apparent to Lewis at middle linebacker.
30. Pittsburgh- Manti Te’o, ILB, Notre Dame:
Analysis: Pittsburgh, much like Baltimore, has an aging leader at middle linebacker in James Farrior and I don’t think the future replacement for him is currently on the roster. Enter Manti Te’o, a 1st round caliber middle linebacker. Te’o projects well to a 3-4 scheme that would require him to play downhill and blitz to help create pressure, two things that Te’o does very well. Pittsburgh would get a player who is a good fit for their scheme and they’d have a great replacement for Farrior in the middle of their defense.
31. San Francisco- Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington:
Analysis: San Francisco lost Aubrayo Franklin in free agency and most people anticipated them struggling to stop the run after losing him. That hasn’t been the case, however, they could still use an upgrade at the nose tackle spot. Ta’amu is one of the best nose tackle prospects in the country and he is very hard to move off of the line of scrimmage. He’d be a perfect nose tackle for the 49ers, and would be a reasonable value at this point in the draft.
32. Green Bay- Brandon Jenkins, OLB, Florida State:
Analysis: I have been saying this since Clay Matthews emerged as a stud linebacker for the Packers: They need someone opposite him to help take pressure off of him. Matthews is a man-child, but he can’t get 10 sacks a year and apply consistent pressure without a talented player opposite him. At first they had Brady Poppinga and he was replaced by Erik Walden, but both players could be easily upgraded. Enter Brandon Jenkins, the nation’s sack leader from a year ago. He has tons of speed off the edge and while he needs to get stronger he has significant upside as a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Thanks for reading! I’d appreciate any feedback so I can improve future mock drafts.

–Tom

NCAA Week 5 Top 25 Picks

South Florida over Pittsburgh

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

South Florida by 13

Texas A&M over Arkansas

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

Texas A&M by 6

Michigan over Minnesota (Potential blow-out)

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

Michigan by 24

Illinois over Northwestern

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

Illinois by 7

LSU over Kentucky (Potential blow-out)

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

LSU by 24

Boise State over Nevada

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

Boise State by 21

Georgia Tech over NC State

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

Georgia Tech by 17

West Virginia over Bowling Green

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

West Virginia by 28

Baylor over Kansas State

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

Baylor by 21

Auburn over South Carolina (upset)

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

Auburn by 3

TCU over SMU

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

TCU by 7

Clemson over Virginia Tech

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

Clemson by 7

Texas over Iowa State

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

Texas by 14

Oklahoma over Ball State

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

Oklahoma by 28

Alabama over Florida

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

Alabama by 10

Wisconsin over Nebraska

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

Wisconsin by 7

Stanford over UCLA

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

Stanford by 21

Arizona State over Oregon State

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

Arizona State by 17

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

–Tom

NCAA Top 25 Picks Post

Here is a post where I make some picks for the games the top 25 teams are playing for the week. I’ll try to do this every week, but I might not always have time. I’ll track them to see how well (or poorly) I do over the course of the season. Enjoy!

Week Four NCAA Picks Post:

Oklahoma over Missouri

Analysis: Oklahoma’s offense and defense are both very good, and Missouri didn’t prove they could win against Arizona State, losing 37-30 in OT. James Franklin will probably struggle to carve up the Oklahoma defense like he did the ASU secondary, and I wonder just how much pressure their defense will be able to apply to Landry Jones. Jones will make poor throws when he has pressure in his face, so that will be the key to hanging in on this game. The problem is, I don’t think Missouri’s secondary can hold up consistently if the Tigers are forced to blitz to create pressure.

Oklahoma by 17

LSU over West Virginia

Analysis: LSU’s defense is the best in the country as far as I’m concerned. They were tested right off the bat against Oregon and stood very tall. I’ve never seen a defensive tackle rotation like theirs in all my years of watching football. I believe that they have four starting caliber defensive tackles, and they arguably have three starting caliber cornerbacks in Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Tharold Simon. Claiborne is a junior and Mathieu and Simon are both sophomores, but they might be the best trio of cornerbacks in the country. LSU’s run defense and pass defense are both very good and their defense is very fast, and I think they are going to cause a lot of problems for Geno Smith and his offensive counterparts. On defense, West Virginia will have to pressure Jarrett Lee, but also stop LSU from establishing the running game because they love to run play action after establishing the run (and they’re quite good at it). Without the play action fake LSU struggles to threaten downfield due to Lee’s lack of arm strength. However, I think WVU will struggle to take away the run game, end up loading the box, and therefore allowing Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham and Deagnelo Peterson to get behind the secondary.

LSU by 16

Alabama over Arkansas

This one was tough for me to call. Alabama probably has the #2 defense in the country behind LSU (at least as far as I’m concerned, but it’s definitely close) and they have a quarterback with limited experience as well in AJ McCarron. Luckily, they have two talented running backs to take the pressure off of him in Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Marquis Maze has stepped up as I thought he would and has 15 receptions, 186 yards and 1 TD in the first three contests. I think Alabama will be able to move the ball on offense against Arkansas’ defense, but I think that Alabama will be able to slow down the Razorbacks offensive attack. I love their WR’s, led by Cobi Hamilton as of now (13 receptions, a team leading 252 yards, 19.4 average per catch and 1 TD) and Tyler Wilson has stepped in to fill the void left by Ryan Mallett like I thought he would. However, Alabama’s defense is vastly better than Missouri State, New Mexico, Troy (the three teams he has faced this year) and much better than Auburn’s defense that struggled mightily to stop big, physically gifted receivers every time they matched up against them. Arkansas won’t get shut out by any means, but Alabama is going to be Tyler Wilson’s first real taste of what it’s like to play against a SEC caliber defense, and I don’t think he’s going to enjoy it.

Alabama by 13

Boise State over Tulsa

This really isn’t a hard pick in my opinion. Boise State’s defensive line is fierce and I expect Billy Winn and company to be in GJ Kinne’s face for the majority of this game. Boise State’s offense is still clicking thanks to Kellen Moore, so I expect this to be a relatively easy win. Kinne has a chance to show talent evaluators what he can do though, as his team is clearly overmatched.

Boise State by 21

Wisconsin over South Dakota

This shouldn’t be much of a contest either, as Wisconsin’s offense has the potential to be one of the best in the Big 10 if it isn’t already the best. Their running game and play action game will be way too much for South Dakota to handle, and hopefully they have continued to work on their run defense. If they don’t have it tuned up soon they will have a lot of trouble stopping Nebraska.

Wisconsin by 21

Texas A&M over Oklahoma State

This one was very tough for me to call as well. This could very easily go either way considering it is a rare battle between the #7 and #8 teams in the country. Oklahoma State’s offense is a juggernaut still led by Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, but Weeden has thrown 6 interceptions already this season, so that is a concerning stat for OSU fans. However, Joseph Randle has stepped up to replace Kendall Hunter very nicely, running for 378 yards and 7 TD’s on only 62 carries (6.1 average). Ryan Tannehill is a dangerous quarterback though, and he’s got a number of weapons to work with. I’m not sure which defense is better than the other, but I do think that Texas A&M will miss Von Miller rushing the passer in this game. However, Oklahoma State’s defense is traditionally their weakness, so that is why I had to go with Texas A&M. I will be at an away game during this contest and I am very angry that I will miss it. It should be a great game. But I had to give A&M the slight edge.

Texas A&M by 6

Nebraska over Wyoming

Not a very tough call on this one. Nebraska should win this game easily even if Taylor Martinez doesn’t dazzle as a passer.

Nebraska by 28

Oregon over Arizona

This one wasn’t as easy for me to pick as I thought it might be. Oregon has a pretty good defense, but Arizona can move the football pretty well. I’m still confident in Oregon, but Nick Foles has a habit of surprising people when they sleep on him. I don’t think Oregon will take him for granted though especially after losing a tough one to LSU in Cowboys Stadium, and that’s why I think they will end up with a big Pac-12 win here.

Oregon by 14

Clemson over Florida State (Upset)

Clemson is absolutely on fire right now, and this is the worst time for Florida State to be playing them. This isn’t a guarantee by any means, but Clemson’s offense is firing on all cylinders and Florida State didn’t get consistent pressure on Landry Jones last week. Clemson’s offensive line isn’t nearly the equivalent of Oklahoma’s, but they have enough weapons on offense to at least make this a plausible upset. I don’t think Clemson has the defense to keep them in the game if they can’t score, so unless their defense steps up and slows FSU down they are going to make me look foolish for this pick.

Clemson by 7

South Carolina over Vanderbilt

This isn’t as easy of a pick as I thought it would be, especially since South Carolina is in a state of flux and Vanderbilt is undefeated for the first time in recent memory after three weeks. I don’t think Vanderbilt will be able to hold off South Carolina, but stranger things have happened. If it was ever going to happen, I think it would happen now. Steve Spurrier doesn’t seem to have much faith in Stephen Garcia and even though they have one of the best backs in the country in Marcus Lattimore you just never know what will happen in the SEC. I don’t expect Vanderbilt to pull it off, but this is one I would watch as a POSSIBLE upset.

South Carolina by 10

Virginia Tech over Marshall

Analysis: This shouldn’t be much of a challenge for Virginia Tech, but it should be a good tune-up game for Logan Thomas. I think he has tons of upside, and it’ll be interesting to see how he develops throughout the season.

Virginia Tech by 17

Florida over Kentucky

Analysis: Kentucky isn’t a terrible team, but Florida’s defense is vastly better than I expected it to be even without Janoris Jenkins. Chris Rainey really impressed me last week and if he can stay healthy I think he could really improve his draft stock. I’m pretty high on Jonathan Bostic, Jaye Howard and Dominique Easley on their defense, so I’m excited to see them play against Kentucky again. I don’t anticipate the Gators having a lot of trouble in this game.

Florida by 14

Baylor over Rice

Analysis: Robert Griffin has been absolutely LETHAL this year. He’s 41/49 for 624 yards (83.7% completion), 12.74 yards per attempts and he has 8 touchdowns and no interceptions. On top of that, he has 116 yards rushing. Kendall Wright has been huge for Baylor with 20 receptions (14 more than the next receiver), 312 yards (184 yards more than the next receiver) and 3 TD’s. I don’t think Rice has much of a chance to slow Griffin down. The first time he might slow down in my estimation would be October 15th against A&M once they get into the real meat of their schedule. I haven’t been able to watch much of him, but it will be interesting to go back and watch him play to see if he has corrected any of the things I said he needed to work on in my preseason scouting report.

Baylor by 21

South Florida over UTEP

Analysis: South Florida is having one of their best seasons in recent memory, at least to start the season, and BJ Daniels seems to be maturing rather nicely. As long as he continues to develop the sky is the limit for USF, and I don’t think UTEP will have much of a chance to slow them down this week.

South Florida by 17

TCU over Portland State

Analysis: TCU lost a tough one against Baylor in week one, but they seemed to have bounced back in recent weeks. Portland State shouldn’t pose much of a threat, even with an inexperienced quarterback still getting a feel for the starting role.

TCU by 17

Michigan over San Diego State

Analysis: Brady Hoke welcomes his former team into the Big House as the Head Coach of the Wolverines this week as pretty heavy favorites. Denard Robinson isn’t my favorite quarterback but he is incredibly fast and I’m not sure SDSU has the speed to keep up with him in this game. Junior Hemingway has really stepped up this year (even though he looks like a TE rumbling downfield sometimes on go routes). It’ll be interesting to see how Michigan does in this game, but I would be pretty surprised if they botched this game after clawing their way into the top 25.

Michigan by 17

USC over Arizona State

Analysis: Before the game against Illinois last week I might have picked Arizona State in this one, but Brock Osweiler is still developing and even though the Sun Devils had a huge win against Missouri a couple weeks ago I don’t think they are ready to knock off USC. USC has a big chip on its shoulder because of the bowl ban that was placed on them, and I think they will approach this game with something to prove even though they are favored.

USC by 10

Illinois over Western Michigan

Analysis: This shouldn’t be a challenging game for Illinois. Western Michigan isn’t a bad program, but I don’t think they have the firepower to stick with Illinois on either side of the ball. They just fought their way into the top 25, so I don’t think they’ll get upset after just earning their #24 ranking.

North Carolina over Georgia Tech (Upset)

Analysis: I have to admit that I am a UNC fan, so that may have had something to do with this pick (which really isn’t much of an upset, though technically it is). I think UNC’s offense can score on Georgia Tech’s defense, and I think UNC’s defense is fast enough and disciplined enough to slow down Georgia Tech’s option offense that absolutely dominated Kansas last week. Georgia Tech is flying high, but UNC usually plays them pretty well and they are talented enough to pull this off. I really wish I could see this game, but I will be traveling and working while it goes on.

Those are my picks for this week. Hopefully you enjoy them and I look forward to seeing some good football this week. Thanks for reading!

–Tom

E.J. Manuel's performance this year will either be the reason Florida State climbs back to the top of the ACC or the reason they have a mediocre season. If he plays well, the old FSU could be back. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

6. Florida State- Florida State lost quarterback Christian Ponder but outside of that they return a LOT of starters, key starters too. Jermaine Thomas at RB will be huge for them, they have talent at receiver, and they return a quality offensive line (especially their tackles Andrew Datko and Zebrie Sanders). They also have one of the best pass rushers in the country in Brandon Jenkins, who should draw considerable attention this year as he attempts to mimic his incredible success from last year. Florida State’s saving grace will be E.J. Manuel’s considerable playing experience considering he was the back-up to Ponder all this time, but because of Ponder’s injuries he not only has regular season experience but bowl game experience. While he wasn’t dominant or spectacular in all of his playing time, he definitely showcased ability and should play well enough to give Florida State a good shot at an ACC title. If he plays really well then they may have a shot at a great bowl game or even a chance to win the National Championship.

7. South Carolina- South Carolina is returning a lot of talent and has a great recruiting class coming in. They have a number of players ready to emerge, and if Stephen Garcia can finally get his act together (and keep it together, which is usually the tricky part) South Carolina should have a great season. Garcia, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey will make the offense viable provided the offensive line helps them out, and South Carolina should have a fierce pass rush if Devin Taylor emerges like I expect him to. South Carolina definitely has a lot of talent, and this may be the ole ball coach’s best chance to win a SEC title in a long time, with Alabama, Auburn and Florida all in a significant transition stage.

Trent Richardson has incredible upside and should help carry the Crimson Tide offense while A.J. McCarron adjusts to his new role as the starter. (AP Photo/ Butch Dill)

8. Alabama- It’s tough to ever count Alabama out of the top 5 or 10, but if there was a year to do it this would probably be the year. They lost a quarterback who is apparently allergic to losing in Greg McElroy, a Heisman winner and future NFL stud in Mark Ingram, a dynamic wide receiver in Julio Jones, multiple offensive linemen (most notably James Carpenter, who I might have had an interview with had I not projected him to go in the 3rd round) and Marcell Dareus, just to name a few. Losing four first round draft picks plus a quarterback who lost less times in his college career than I do when I play a full NCAA Football on Xbox is about as bad as it gets for a college program, but Alabama is an elite program now and like USC used to do they aren’t going to rebuild, they are going to reload. The problem with that is, while they can reload at most positions and they return a LOT of talent on defense, QB is going to be a question mark. A.J. McCarron is expected to be the starter, but he has little playing experience and will only be a redshirt sophomore. The QB position is incredibly important, especially for a possible national title run, and while I expect ‘Bama to be formidable because of their defense and a very dynamic running back in Trent Richardson and a receiver I am high on in Marquis Maze, if McCarron doesn’t step up in a big way they will lose at least a couple games even with a favorable schedule for a SEC school.

9. Oklahoma State- Oklahoma State had a fantastic season last year and they return some key starters this year, specifically Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon, two of the key cogs in what may have been the most explosive offense in the country last year. They lost Kendall Hunter though, a very effective RB who really was the final piece to their explosive offense puzzle, so replacing him with another effective player will be critical if they want to have similar success on offense again this year. On defense they have some talent, but it will be a question mark until they step up in my opinion. They haven’t had much on that side of the ball in a while but it has been overshadowed by their high octane offenses. If their defense can step up then Oklahoma State has a chance to give Oklahoma a run for their money.

Russell Wilson may not have played for Wisconsin last year, but this year he could be the key to unlocking the potential of multiple players on offense, most notably wide receiver Nick Toon.

10. Wisconsin- Wisconsin is returning a lot of quality players, such as Montee Ball, James White, Nick Toon, Ricky Wagner, Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler, Louis Nzegwu, Chris Borland (coming back from injury), Antonio Fenelus, Devin Smith and Aaron Henry, to name a few. They will still have a very good offensive line as they return three good starters and already have a replacement for Carimi in place at LT in Wagner. RT will be an area of concern, as well as the DE spot opposite Nzegwu, previously occupied by the #11 overall draft pick J.J. Watt. They do have a significant upgrade on the way at QB though, and Russell Wilson’s transfer to Wisconsin makes them a favorite to win the Big-10 this year. Their pass defense is concerning to me though, because they lost two established starters in J.J. Watt and Niles Brinkley and while they might have solid replacements for them Wisconsin’s pass defense was an issue before they even lost them (see Rose Bowl game against TCU). If they can generate a quality pass rush and play better pass defense then Wisconsin could go a long way, but that back end is concerning to me.

Thanks for reading my most recent installment of my Preseason Top 25 Rankings! The top five teams will be unveiled tomorrow!

–Tom

1- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Analysis: Trent Richardson is a very special talent. He emerged as a freshman even while Mark Ingram was playing well en route to winning the Heisman that year, and had a couple key runs against Texas to help Alabama win the National Championship game. Richardson will be the feature back for Alabama this year and I am very much looking forward to seeing how he does as the main back. Regardless of who starts at QB for ‘Bama it will be someone who has not started on the college level before, so I anticipate that Richardson will get carries early and often every game.
2- Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
Analysis: Davis is one of my favorite prospects and last year I wrote a post on him stating that he was the best offensive prospect on Arkansas’ offense, which obviously insinuated that I thought he would get drafted higher than Ryan Mallett (who went in the 3rd round to the Patriots). Davis is incredibly talented and I am very much looking forward to seeing him play as one of the focal points of a potentially explosive offense this next year. He should help keep a lot of pressure off of Tyler WIlson early in the season, but if Wilson can play effectively then Davis should have more holes to run through. Either way, Davis is a great talent and I am a big fan.
3- Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M
Analysis: Gray emerged last year as a junior and helped Texas A&M finish their season on a high note en route to a bowl game against LSU. Gray should team up with Tannehill, Jeff Fuller and Uzoma Nwachukwu to form a pretty potent offense. I don’t have a good feel for Gray’s game and tendencies yet but I am really looking forward to watching him this season.
4- Chris Polk, RB, Washington
Analysis: Polk has been underrated since his freshman season, and some might be surprised that LaMichael James is ranked below him, but while Polk may not be the big play threat that James is at Oregon he is a very good runningback who has been productive in each of his three seasons at Washington. The burden of the offense will be on Polk this year now that Locker has graduated, so it will be interesting to see if Polk steps up to the plate and helps take some of the pressure off of the new starting quarterback.
5- LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Analysis: James is a talented back but I don’t think he will be a starter in the NFL because I don’t think he could take the beating he would sustain running between the tackles consistently as a feature back. I think he could be a very good complementary back in the NFL, at least initially, but because I don’t think he is going to be a starter I couldn’t rank him as high as others might.
6- Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Analysis: Miller has the potential to explode onto the scene this year and I expect him to be the starting running back for Miami this year. If Miami can find a solid starting QB (not Jacory Harris, hopefully Morris steps up) then their offense could be dynamic with Miller, Travis Benjamin and LaRon Byrd to spread the ball around to. Miller should be effective running the ball regardless though, and I am very excited to see him get some consistent carries because he took over a game or two when he got all the carries on certain drives as a freshman.
7- Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
Analysis: Ellington is another speed back from Clemson and he has gamebreaking speed similar to C.J. Spiller. He will be the main back now that Jamie Harper has left for the NFL, and I think he will experience a great deal of success in that role. I don’t know what his tendencies are and I haven’t scouted him specifically yet because he was not eligible to come out this year (I believe he was a true sophomore) but I look forward to evaluating him because it will be interesting to compare him to C.J. Spiller because they both went to the same school and play the position of running back in similar ways.
8- Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Analysis: Ball really emerged as a legitimate rushing threat this season for Wisconsin and I think his emergence, along with that of James White, forced John Clay’s hand and led to him declaring early for the NFL Draft instead of coming back to school where he would have had his touches reduced. Ball is a very powerfully built running back and he fits Wisconsin’s scheme very well and should have a great season especially with James White spelling him as his #2 back. If they can get a quarterback to take some of the pressure off of the running game then Ball could have a huge season as a junior.
9- Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple
Analysis: I have not watched Pierce play a lot but I do know he is the cog that makes the Temple offense go and he should again be the focal point of their offense next year. It will be interesting to see him play since I have seen so little tape on him, but I expect to see a quality feature back when I watch him play.
10- Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas State
Analysis: Brown is a transfer from Tennessee and is a very talented back and with Daniel Thomas out of the way he could be in line for a huge season this year. Kansas State relied on their running game extensively last season and they will presumably do the same this year, so Brown’s role in the offense should be substantial. I look forward to watching him play this year, his first as a starter for Kansas State.

Hopefully you all enjoyed my preliminary running back rankings for the 2012 season. I can’t wait for college football to get here. As I said earlier I will do my best to keep churning out content but I will be very busy with my internship (which I work at 9-5 every week day) but I should still be able to chip away at these rankings in the coming weeks. Keep an eye out for them and thanks for reading!

–Tom

Scouting Report:

James Carpenter looks to be a quality right tackle in the NFL for a long time. (Photo from Alabama Media Relations)

Positives:

Carpenter has impressive size at nearly 6’5”, 315 pounds even if he isn’t very well toned at that weight. He has long arms and big hands, which help him as a run and pass blocker. He has solid lateral agility and pretty good footwork to mirror pass rushers, but his greatest value is as a run blocker in my opinion. He consistently drive blocks well with good hand placement in the running game and sustains his blocks well thanks to his big, strong hands and long arms which make his blocks hard to get off of. He has good technique as both a run and pass blocker, does not bend at the waist but at the knees. He is also more mobile than I thought he would be, as he routinely demonstrates the ability to combo-block a defender and then move to the second level and engage a linebacker. He moves well for a man of his size in space and has a solid first step off the line of scrimmage to help him down-block on DT’s or to seal his man on a draw play. Carpenter also does a good job of taking his man out of the play in pass protection if he gets his hands on him. Also surprisingly good at cut blocks for his size.

Negatives:

I don’t think Carpenter can stick at left tackle in the NFL as a starter. I think he could play there in a pinch if your starter went down, but overall I think he is a right tackle. He is solid off the ball but even though he has good technique and footwork he just doesn’t have the lateral agility to mirror speed rushers who can fly around the edge. When facing players like this he will open his hips a bit too early, making him vulnerable to the inside move. At times he seems to be waiting for the defender to come to him and waiting to engage him in pass protection when he could get into position and get his hands on him to help force him wide or take him out of the play. When moving in space he struggles to change direction quickly and while he has the athleticism to pull, set up screens and even cut block I don’t think he would be a good fit in a zone blocking scheme.

Overall:

James Carpenter is a quality offensive tackle prospect. Is he going to be a Pro-Bowler at LT? No. But I think he will be a quality starter for a long time at right tackle in the NFL. He is very durable and didn’t miss a start in his career at Alabama. He is tough, he has experience in a pro-style offense so he could arguably contribute right away if needed once he learns the offensive terminology, and because his technique is already well developed you know what you are getting with him. He isn’t a project, which means his ceiling isn’t as high, but he is someone who can contribute early in his career in my opinion. He should be a quality pass blocker as long as he doesn’t have to block great speed rushers off the edge and he should be a quality run blocker as well, making him a worthwhile pick for someone in need of a quality right tackle and a spot-starter at left tackle.

Projection: 3rd round. Carpenter could go early-late 3rd round in my opinion. Will he go early in that round? It’s hard to say. With a good combine and pro-day showing it is certainly possible, but because he isn’t a terrific athlete I think it is likely that he doesn’t improve his stock much during those events while other more athletic/lesser known players could emerge and pass him up. I would personally pick him in the second round because he is so fundamentally sound and ready to contribute however.

SKILLS:
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite

Strength: 4.0
Pass Blocking: 3.5
Run Blocking: 4.0
Footwork: 3.5
Technique: 4.0
Mobility: 3.0
Mean Streak: 3.0

Thanks for reading, hopefully you enjoyed my breakdown of James Carpenter. As promised, Greg McElroy, Marcell Dareus and Julio Jones are still on their way.

–Tom

Hi everyone, sorry my posts have been a bit infrequent lately. I am currently in Mexico on vacation with my family and I don’t have internet in the house I am staying at. I didn’t bring my phone with me either, so in a way it is nice to get away from it all for a while. However, I watched the Sugar Bowl at a restaurant that had a TV and paid attention to some specific players and also noticed some who performed well. So despite not having internet where I am staying here are my notes on Arkansas and Ohio State from the Sugar Bowl!

Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas– Mallett had a bit of a tough night. He had his ups and downs and his receivers dropped at least five catchable balls, some of them which would have been big plays, but he had his share of very inaccurate throws himself. He was routinely pressured, so credit Ohio State’s defensive line and blitz packages for that, but he did not do a good job of finding hot reads and getting the ball out quickly in this game. He held onto the ball too long and eventually had to take a sack or throw an off balance pass that was either somewhat catchable or in the dirt. He has a pretty good sense of when to move up in the pocket when the pressure is getting there, but once the pressure forces him out of the pocket he was not accurate in this game. He had no interceptions all season when throwing outside of the pocket until this game when he threw his only interception of the night late in the fourth quarter after being forced outside the pocket yet again. He had a number of impressive throws in this game though, particularly on fade routes. He showed nice touch, good arm strength and impressive accuracy to put the ball on the right shoulder and where only his receiver could make a play on it a number of times on fade routes. However, he had a few bad decisions too like he always does. He isn’t afraid to throw into double coverage and even without his feet set he is sure he can throw the ball pretty much wherever he wants, which isn’t always the case. His footwork still leaves a lot to be desired for this reason, because when he sets his feet he can put the ball wherever he wants it thanks to his terrific arm strength and good (but inconsistent) accuracy.

Like Jay Cutler, when he is on he is really on, and can sling the ball all over the field. But he was noticeably frustrated against Ohio State because his receivers dropped some passes they really should have caught, and it culminated with Mallett forcing a pass into coverage and getting picked off by a defensive end dropping into coverage. Suffice it to say, I’m still not a Ryan Mallett fan. I think his ceiling in the NFL is a Jay Cutler type of QB who can really sling it when he is having a good day, but unless he improves his footwork he will always be inconsistent from game to game and season to season. However, Mallett’s floor is also a low one in my opinion, because I have no idea what kind of character he possesses and I have heard there are a number of scouts and GM’s who have significant enough problems with his character to not have him on their draft board at all. If these rumors are true and Mallett turns out to have character issues (not because of off-field incidents, but more like Jimmy Clausen’s character issues about being too cocky/arrogant, etc.) then I think it will hurt him on draft day like it did Clausen.

I’m still unimpressed with Mallett as a leader and as a “clutch” player late in games because I still don’t think I have seen him get the ball late in a game and methodically drive his team down the field for a late touchdown or field goal to take the lead. The announcers mentioned a three play, 73 yard touchdown drive before the punt block occurred, but that is a misleading statistic. The first two throws on that drive were pretty easy throws to open receivers, and the third throw, while impressively placed between the cornerback and the safety down the sideline, was caught by Greg Childs who made the safety miss and then was clear to jog into the end zone for the final 30+ yards of the drive to take the lead. Not exactly a magical drive from Mallett I wouldn’t say. Anyways, I was wondering if he had it in him to make a couple of good decisions and throws in this game to win it late (even though they got really lucky with the short field from the punt block) but a dropped pass and then an off balance throw that was easily intercepted by a defensive end took care of that threat. Because Mallett is not a proven “winner” in my opinion I don’t see him developing into one once he gets to the NFL. There are too many things going against him: Poor footwork, inconsistent accuracy/ball placement, inconsistent decision making, potential character concerns, little experience leading come-backs late in the 4th quarter and significant evidence to say that he is a “System Quarterback” given the fact that none of the QB’s Petrino has coached in his system have gone on to have NFL success. I said earlier this year that I thought Knile Davis was the best prospect on Arkansas’ offense and I still feel that way. It will be interesting to see how the draft process unfolds for Mallett, and even though I’m not a fan I would feel like a jerk if I didn’t wish him good luck the rest of the way. Honestly, he may need it.

Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State– I have probably not hidden the fact that I am not a Terrelle Pryor fan either, so I have to start this post off by saying that even though he had a great statistical performance in this game I am still not a fan at all. He had a ton of production in this game, and like he usually does he converted some huge first downs for Ohio State with his legs and I believe he ended up with well over 100 yards rushing, which is impressive considering Arkansas’ ability to create sacks and negative plays (for those who don’t know, in college when the quarterback is sacked the yards lost are considered a negative rushing play and taken out of their rushing total. That is why some pocket passers will end games with negative yards rushing even though they rarely, if ever, crossed the line of scrimmage). He even looked pretty good as a passer in the first half. I was surprised how well he handled some of Arkansas’ pressure, but I can’t say I have a lot of faith in their secondary so it’s not a surprise that some of his receivers were getting separation. I’m still not sold on him as a passer, but he got the ball out under duress better than I thought he would. Like last year in the Rose Bowl he impressed me by saving his best performances for big games, so you have to give him credit for that. I may not be sold on him as a NFL QB, but I will always like players who despite all the things that may happen leading up to a game (such as getting suspended for the first five games of your senior season for selling old memorabilia from your career) can still put on a show when it counts.

That’s not to say he locked this game up with his arm, he was really ineffective in the second half, probably because Arkansas started to mix in more zone instead of pressuring him. Scrambling QB’s are tricky to prepare for because sometimes if you blitz them and you get to them you can force turnovers, but if they can escape pressure (like Pryor was able to for the entire first half and even in the second half) then there will usually be a lot of room to run or a wide open receiver as a result of a broken play. Mike Vick was great at escaping from pressure (especially against average or worse defenses), as is Pryor, and at picking up first downs because of his legs. Despite some of the impressive throws Pryor had in this game I am still not sold on him as a passer. When it was crunch time he converted with his legs, not his arm, and he didn’t seem comfortable reading zone coverage and had to exit the pocket and scramble to buy more time so one of his receivers could come open. I’m not sure how good his anticipation is as a QB, and because I watched this live I won’t be able to evaluate it until I re-watch it later, but it seems to me he wouldn’t have struggled to find receivers to throw to against Arkansas’ more zone-heavy scheme in the 2nd half if he could anticipate where his receiver would be and throw him open in the hole in the zone. Because he wasn’t able to do that he had to extend plays with his legs and I can think of probably three or four horrible throws that were off his back foot with tons of air under them that he had to thank God that they went out of bounds. He had a couple of potential interceptions dropped by the Arkansas’ secondary additionally, and at least one of them was an absolute “gimme” where two defenders went for it and neither came away with it.

So, while Pryor played well overall and had a very productive game with what was probably about 350 yards of total offense by himself I am still not sold on him as a NFL QB. He is a great athlete and he has good arm strength but very inconsistent accuracy. He just isn’t a very good passer from the pocket when it comes down to it. His pocket presence is not very good because his tendency is always to run or scramble when pressure comes instead of stepping up into the pocket, keeping his feet set and throwing his receiver open. He seemed to struggle reading zone coverage, I’m not sure how well he does finding his hot reads and I still don’t trust his decision making. So while he had a great game and got Ohio State (and the Big 10) a much needed BCS win against an SEC team he still hasn’t impressed me as a passer. For his sake I hope he comes back next year and serves his suspension just on the off chance he develops some more.

Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas– I am a huge fan of Knile Davis. He had a good game against Ohio State even though he had a costly fumble in the 2nd half. He was fighting for extra yards and even though he had the ball tucked away safely in one arm he should have covered it up with two to make sure it didn’t get stripped. I believe Arkansas recovered it anyway, but still it was a mistake on his part. Other than that I thought he played great. He showed impressive burst, acceleration and pretty good vision all game. He tried to bounce one or two runs outside (that I can remember from just watching it live) that I didn’t think he should have but mostly he was good at getting North and South from what I remember. He had another 100 yard game, his sixth of the season even though I believe he only started nine games all year. He really helped take Arkansas from a dangerous passing offense to a juggernaut balanced offense this year with his emergence, and though Mallett had a huge hand in making big plays in the passing game a lot of it was set up by Davis forcing teams to creep up and respect the run.

If Mallett leaves as I expect him to I am really excited to see if Davis can have a huge season next year even though Tyler Wilson will be stepping in at QB. Wilson showed some flashes of what he can do in Petrino’s offense against Auburn with a 400 yard, four touchdown performance in a loss but I think it’s clear that even though Mallett is extremely physically talented a player with less physical gifts like Wilson (who actually showed some pretty nice zip on his passes in that game from what I remember) can still operate the offense and make it explosive. So congratulations to Knile Davis on a fantastic season and I really hope he has a great junior season and that he stays healthy so he can end up being picked in the 1st round next year. The SEC should have a ton of talented RB’s to watch next year by the way: Knile Davis at Arkansas, Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles at South Carolina, Trent Richardson at Alabama (assuming Ingram leaves), Brandon Bolden at Mississippi, Vick Ballard at Mississippi State, Tauren Poole at Tennessee, and Washaun Ealey at Georgia. It should be fun to watch as some of those programs start to feature those running backs a lot, especially now that the conference has some young, promising talent at QB.

Joe Adams, WR, Arkansas– Adams had a huge game statistically but it could have been even bigger if he didn’t drop three catchable passes. I love his speed in the slot so that he can turn a short drag route into a twenty yard gain and his speed to challenge down the seam or down the sideline vertically. Plus he is elusive after the catch and plays with a feisty attitude which I like. However, his hands just aren’t quite what you want in a wide receiver yet. The first deep shot of the game was to Adams and it bounced right off his hands which really set the tone for Arkansas in the first half. The whole time the announcers talked about how Ohio State has been good at preventing the big play all season which is why they don’t give up a lot of yards but they had an early opportunity to make a big play and get some momentum but Adams let it bounce right off his hands. He dropped two other passes that I can remember, one that would have been for a touchdown, and that really hurts his grade for his overall performance in this game. If he didn’t have those three costly drops I would have said he is exactly what the Falcons needed at wide receiver because of his ability to stretch the field, make guys miss for yards after the catch and because of his tendency for explosive plays.

However, I think he should go back to school, work on his hands all summer and hopefully he will come back with Tyler Wilson to form a new big three of Wilson, Davis and Adams now that Mallett and Childs should both be gone. This kid has a ton of potential but as stupid as it sounds for a wide receiver, he just has to improve his hands. He has the speed and burst to improve as a route runner (I’m not sure how good he is at this point) and that can be coached up, but if he wants to improve his hands that is on him. There are plenty of examples of receivers who didn’t have great hands who came into the NFL and improved them over their first three seasons, and if Adams wants to be one of those guys all he needs is the work ethic. However, there are even more guys who had tons of potential because of their speed and play-making ability in college who never capitalized on it in the NFL because their hands held them back. I really hope Adams doesn’t end up being the latter.

DeMarcus Love, OT, Arkansas– Love had a tough game. I can honestly say I didn’t pay too much attention to him because I was trying to see how Mallett, Davis, Adams and D.J. Williams were doing but when I did notice him it was usually bad news. He had a lot of trouble with Cameron Heyward and that isn’t surprising, I think Heyward is a top 20 lock, and probably the #2 3-4 DE prospect after Marcell Dareus in this entire draft. His strength and power gave Love a lot of issues, and routinely Love got beaten by Heyward which led to pressure on Mallett before the play could really develop. That’s not good for Love’s draft prospects because I’m not sure he has the lateral agility and athletic ability to stick at left tackle, but at right tackle teams are going to be looking for a guy who can be a road-grader in the running game and take away whatever pass rushers they are up against, unless of course they have to face a guy with good/great speed off the edge. I will have to re-watch this game closely to see how Love does, but depending on his athletic ability and how well he gets to the second level I have a feeling his NFL future may be inside at guard. But like I said, I need to re-watch this game before I come to any conclusions about Love as a prospect. I just noticed that he struggled mightily at times in this game.

D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas– I like D.J. Williams as a prospect, and I think he has developed into a solid blocker. I don’t know that he will ever be a great blocker but being able to be solid blocker will really help his value as a prospect, because without that ability he would be a horrible fit in an offense that asks their TE’s to block a lot like Atlanta’s. Now he is a potential fit because of that ability, and he seems to have a good work ethic so there is reason to hope that he could improve with coaching. His real value comes as a receiver though. I have heard him be compared to Tony Gonzalez which is a comparison I don’t like at all, but he is a good receiver. His hands are pretty good even though it was his drop that preceded Ryan Mallett’s game ending interception for Arkansas. I see him let passes into his pads at times though which is a bad habit, but he has good hands overall in my opinion. I’m not sure how much he will be able to challenge down the seam in the NFL because I don’t really buy that he has 4.6 timed speed, but he is good at finding holes in the zone and he catches the ball effectively in traffic. He is also very hard to bring down after the catch, and he routinely picks up extra yardage not with speed and great elusiveness but by lowering his shoulder and running through tacklers. I personally think Lance Kendricks is a better TE prospect but that probably has something to do with me seeing a lot of him over the past three years, and I think that if Rudolph declares he will still get picked before Kendricks and Williams. I would be surprised if those two were not the next TE’s off the board barring additional junior declarations.

Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State– I am a big Heyward fan and I really think he should be off the board in the top 20 selections. He is the perfect 3-4 DE in my opinion and if a team in the top 20 needs one he should be high on their wish list. He has great size, he’s really strong and he has great hand usage to shed blocks. I’m not sure he has the best motor, but he stands up well at the point of attack versus the run and is quick enough that he can penetrate into the backfield with one move and close on the ball carrier. He seems to be a pretty good tackler, though I haven’t scouted him enough to be sure of that. However, when it comes to the basics of playing DE in a 3-4, he has them down. He is strong enough at the point of attack to control two gaps, he is very good at shedding blocks because of his strong and active hands, he is at least a solid tackler and he has good quickness for his size to penetrate and make plays in the backfield when given the opportunity. And if that 3-4 team goes into a nickel defense and has four down lineman he can play LE or DT depending on whether it is a running or passing situation, potentially making him even more valuable.

I just think he is a very well-rounded player and he had a great game against Arkansas. He was pretty much a one man wrecking crew and he could not be blocked with just one guy, regardless of whether he was playing outside at DE or inside at DT. Like I said before, I like players that show up big in big games and Heyward certainly did that against Arkansas. He was constantly pressuring Mallett, penetrating versus the run and generally wreaking havoc whenever he was in. And perhaps even more impressive was the fact that it was extremely noticeable when he came out because of his elbow that was bothering him. Arkansas moved the ball much better as soon as he came out, and when he came back in his impact was immediately felt. It is rare for a defensive lineman to have that kind of impact on a game, but Heyward did and it really impressed me. If I was a big fan before I am an even bigger fan now. I’m not sure he will test all that well as far as 40 time and what not, but he has great size, good short area quickness and he is really strong, so even if he doesn’t run the fastest 40 for a guy his size he shouldn’t be docked too much for it. I look forward to seeing him at the Senior Bowl if he does indeed go. I imagine it will be more of the same of him dominating blockers one on one for the most part if he does.

Thanks for reading, hopefully you can watch and enjoy the remaining bowl games! I will do what I can to put up predictions for the Cotton Bowl and the National Championship game, but internet access is infrequent for me. That is why I wasn’t able to put a prediction post up for the Sugar Bowl. For the record I did predict their comeback in the second half, just ask my Mom (who watched the game with me and lost a 50 cent bet about Arkansas’ potential comeback).

–Tom

I took some time out of my time off during Fourth of July weekend to watch some football (like that’s a surprise) and I wanted to take a look at this game to get a feel for what to expect from Alabama’s offense and Kentucky’s offense during this upcoming year. Some of what I saw surprised me in a good way, but overall the guys I took notes on in this game something to be desired. Enjoy my breakdown of the players I took notes on!

Analysis of game:

Hartline has potential but he was plagued by bad decision-making in this game, especially when under pressure.

I watched this game because I wanted to evaluate Mike Hartline as a junior against quality competition, but I went in knowing that he had his struggles statistically in this game. However, it turns out that his performance in this game was just as bad as the statistics showed, if not worse. He never settled in and looked comfortable against Alabama’s pressure, he routinely made bad decisions under duress and did not show much pocket poise at all. He has good height but he looks very skinny and does not look strong or tough. He didn’t demonstrate good pocket poise in this game, and because I put so much stock in how well you handle yourself in the face of pressure I was very disappointed in him because of how he dealt with Alabama’s blitz packages. He showed good zip and some good accuracy in this game, and he throws a pretty good deep ball and put a couple of them right on the money. Like most QB’s, when he can get into a little bit of a rhythm and when he has time to throw the ball he can be effective. But when he is pressured he does not look comfortable, he doesn’t make good decisions and he turns the ball over. That is the bottom line, and barring a cataclysmic change in how he handles pressure and duress differently as a QB as a senior he will be nothing more than a 7th round or UDFA QB to me, which is really disappointing. However, I am glad I found this out now and not after I had already put my faith in him as a potential sleeper at the QB position. He could still show something as a senior and get himself drafted, but he won’t be a quality starter in the NFL because he won’t be able to survive without a great offensive line and running game to keep teams from coming after him when he drops back to pass. That’s too bad, but that is just how these things go sometimes. Just ask Joey Harrington.

Watching this game certainly opened my eyes to how Mike Hartline carries himself, but I was also very pleasantly surprised by other players on Kentucky’s offense. I also got a closer look at Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Julio Jones and James Carpenter on Alabama’s offense. So it was a good bit of tape for me to watch, and here are my thoughts on those respective players.

First and foremost, the two players who really impressed me the most in this game were Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke on Kentucky. I already knew what Ingram and Richardson were capable of on Alabama, but I had no idea what to expect out of Cobb and Locke, but they really impressed me.

Cobb should be in the end zone a lot next year, and I think he has the potential to be a star.

Cobb is a WR who converted to the position from QB, so he is still learning the position. But Kentucky does everything they can to get him the ball and rightfully so: the guy is an absolute playmaker. I have come to understand that some guys just have an ability that other players don’t to make plays every time they touch the ball, and Cobb is absolutely one of those players. Every time he touched the ball he made a guy miss and got extra yards. He just makes moves and plays that most guys can’t make, and hardly anyone knows who he is. But I guarantee you if you watch a Kentucky game and Cobb gets his hands on the ball he will look like he’s in 3D and the rest of the players are in 2D. He just pops out at you and makes you notice him when he gets the ball in his hands, whether he is taking snaps in the wildcat, catching the ball as a receiver, or returning the ball on kickoffs or punts. He just makes plays and makes guys miss. And the crazy thing is he was only a sophomore, but he was the best player on the field for Kentucky along with Derrick Locke. I often talk about how crucial it is for a QB to tilt the playing field in his teams favor when he gets on the field, but that is absolutely not limited to the QB position. But it is rare to see in any position, and WR is no exception to that. However, I will say this right now: Randall Cobb makes the Wildcats better when he is on the field. He is that special of a player. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see him as a junior, but this kid is going to be a star, I just know it. So remember Randall Cobb’s name, he is going to be a star by the time he leaves Kentucky.

Locke runs hard despite his size, and is effective running between the tackles. To be honest, his playing style reminds me a lot of Warrick Dunn.

Now Cobb may have shot off the screen like 3D fireworks when I watched this game, but Derrick Locke had a quietly good game too, but it was much more methodical and slow to develop than Cobb’s game. Locke is the RB on Kentucky and he will be a senior this season while Cobb is only going to be a junior, however I really liked what I saw from Locke. You can tell he has playing experience because this had to be a frustrating game for him. Alabama’s defense was extremely stout up the middle and Kentucky had to stick with the run even if it wasn’t producing much in the way of yards. But credit to Locke, he stayed patient and got whatever he could on every touch he got, even if it was breaking a tackle behind the line and turning a negative play into a two yard gain. He just kept wearing the defense down and running hard, which is surprising because he is listed at only 5’9”, 190 pounds. So when you look at his size you think “He is a NFL scat back and 3rd down back, the lightning to a more durable, power back’s thunder,” but that is not the case at all. Locke can carry the load, and he did last year with almost 200 attempts and 31 catches as a receiver. He produced almost 1,200 total yards from scrimmage as a runner and receiver along with eight touchdowns as a runner and receiver (six rushing, two receiving).

Now I know this is high praise, but his running style and overall game reminded me a LOT of Warrick Dunn. He can run up the middle effectively despite his size, he is a patient runner and is small enough that he can hide behind his blockers a bit, plus he is an effective receiver out of the backfield and can turn a one yard swing pass into a 12 yard gain by making a guy miss and hitting the accelerator. He is a starting quality back because he can carry the load, and he is good at finding cut-back lanes as a runner. And once he finds a seam he can hit it with a good burst and has the speed to take it the distance once he gets in the open field. Now, I was thinking about how he played and all of a sudden it dawned on me that he reminds me a ton of a poor-mans Warrick Dunn, and the more I thought about it the more the comparison fit well in my opinion. Normally I hate comparisons between two players because there are just too many variables to usually make a valid comparison, but as comparisons go I think this is an accurate one. That’s not to say that I think Locke will be as good as Dunn in the NFL, but I think their playing styles are very similar. I definitely think Locke has the potential to get drafted in the 3rd or 4th round, especially with a productive (and healthy) season as a senior. Not a lot of RB’s stay all four years, especially if they have the talent to go pro, but despite that I think Locke will show that he has a lot to offer a NFL team because of his versatility, and I look forward to scouting him more as a senior. Depending on how well he is known, he could be my sleeper as a RB because he is really flying under the radar right now, but I don’t think that will last much longer.

Now, obviously Alabama was the better team so it was not surprising that they had more players that I needed to take note of, but I made sure to take note on how Greg McElroy and James Carpenter did. When I watched Kentucky I took particular note of how Hartline did, but Cobb and Locke just caught my attention over and over again during their offensive possessions and special teams plays. The same can be said of Ingram when Alabama had the ball, but Trent Richardson and Julio Jones had pretty quiet games. Here are my thoughts on the Alabama players:

McElroy was not much more than a game-manager in this game.

First of all, McElroy looked pretty average to me in this game. I think he has NFL potential similar to John Parker Wilson, but honestly I liked JPW’s game more than I like McElroy’s at this point. Contrary to what the announcers seemed to feel watching this game, I absolutely thought McElroy looked like a game manager for the vast majority of this game. He did have a very impressive drive when Alabama was inside their two yard line and he led them down the entire length of the field on a methodical drive for a touchdown. It was impressive, and it was a good drive, but I can’t say I saw him make a lot of NFL throws in this game. He shows pretty adequate touch and I’d say average or a little above average arm strength, above average accuracy and he doesn’t force throws into coverage and is willing to take a sack instead of forcing a throw where he shouldn’t. His intelligence is well reported, but I don’t see him making a lot of checks at the line like Hartline seemed to be doing in this game, nor do I see him going through more than one or two of his progressions on a regular basis. He also doesn’t use his eyes very well to confuse the defense and keep his real primary read a chance to get open. How a QB uses his eyes to keep a defense honest really says a lot, and McElroy mostly just looks at his receivers as he goes through his progressions, and doesn’t use his eyes well at all. Again, he didn’t look bad in this game, but he did nothing out of the ordinary other than lead that very long drive, but none of the throws or reads he had to make were of particular difficulty by any means. So he I would say is an average to above-average QB in college, but if he was on a less talented team he would not look nearly as good as he does on Alabama, nor would he have his precious undefeated record to cling to.

Ingram has the potential to be a quality every-down back in the NFL.

Ingram, however, impressed me. He is a powerful runner and finishes runs well, plus he runs through arm tackles like they are yellow tape in a marathon. He also showed good vision, patience and pretty good burst and acceleration to go from East/West to North/South quickly. There was one play where he was running to the left, cut laterally to the right to try to find a seam, he found one, made one cut and all of a sudden he was in the secondary on the way to his second touchdown of the day. It was a display of burst and quickness that I wasn’t quite sure he was capable of, so that was very encouraging to see. I think he definitely has NFL talent, so I am excited to see how he does this season.

Trent Richardson also has a lot of talent, but you could tell he was still adjusting to the college ranks in this game. He looked like a totally different running back in the National Championship game against Texas, so you can tell he grew a lot as a player during the course of the year. This was earlier in the year though, so you could tell he was making some mistakes because of his inexperience. It was a quiet game for him, but he showed his potential and I know what he is capable of from the BCS title game. He will definitely make defenses pay for worrying too much about Ingram next year, that’s for sure.

Richardson has a lot of potential, and should help keep Ingram fresh during the season.

One of the more unimpressive players on Alabama was left tackle James Carpenter. He didn’t have a good game, as he routinely looked sloppy fundamentally, ended up on the ground a number of times, got called for two holding penalties and looked uncomfortable in pass protection. He just looked raw fundamentally and didn’t do a good job drive blocking in the run game, and he looked underdeveloped as a pass blocker. When he got his hands on the defender he did a better job of taking him out of the play, but if he had been going against a very good speed rusher he would have been eaten alive in this game. As it was he did fine because Kentucky’s RE was not a household name by any means, but he still did not impress me. Whether he looks any better as a senior is up in the air, but he looked like he 1. might not get drafted until the 6th or 7th round if he gets drafted at all and 2. that he might have to slide inside to guard in the NFL if he sticks with a team. That sure is a drop-off from Andre Smith, who was drafted #6 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals (even though I didn’t like him as a prospect, he was vastly more talented than Carpenter is). Hopefully he looks better as a senior, but my expectations will not be high.

That about does it for my analysis of Kentucky-Alabama from last season. I will have more to say about Alabama after I watch the Texas-Alabama match-up in the National Title game but that is a little further down the road. Hopefully you found this post interesting, and I hope that if you watch either team next year you will be able to recognize some of the things I mentioned about the players I took notes on this game. And seriously, look out for Randall Cobb. The guy has star potential.

Thanks for reading!

–Tom Melton