Tag Archive: USC


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

QBs:

Geno Smith, West Virginia
Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

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

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

RBs:

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

Honorable mention: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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

WRs

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

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

TEs

Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame
Justice Cunningham, South Carolina

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

OTs

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

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

OGs

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

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

Cs

Barrett Jones, Alabama

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

DEs

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

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

DTs

Sheldon Richardson, Missouri
Jesse Williams, Alabama

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

OLBs

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

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

ILBs

Arthur Brown, Kansas State
Kiko Alonso, Oregon

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

CBs

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

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

Safeties

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

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

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

Quarterback:

1-      Geno Smith, WVU

2-      Tyler Wilson, Arkansas

3-      Ryan Nassib, Syracuse

4-      Zac Dysert, Miami (OH)

5-      EJ Manuel, Florida State

6-      Matt Barkley, Southern Cal

7-      Mike Glennon, NC State

8-      Tyler Bray, Tennessee

9-      Landry Jones, Oklahoma

10-   Ryan Griffin, Tulane

11-   Matt Scott, Arizona

12-   Brad Sorensen, Southern Utah

13-   Sean Renfree, Duke

14-   Colby Cameron, Louisiana Tech

15-   Jeff Tuel, Washington State

16-   Nick Florence, Baylor

17-   Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt

18-   Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State

19-   Matt Brown, Illinois State

20-   Nathan Stanley, Southeastern Louisiana

21-   Mike Hermann, RPI

22-   Kyle Essington, Stony Brook

23-   Ryan Radcliff, Central Michigan

24-   Alex Carder, Western Michigan

25-   James Vandenberg, Iowa

26-   Tino Sunseri, Pittsburgh

27-   Seth Doege, Texas Tech

28-   Matt McGloin, Penn State

29-   Collin Klein, Kansas State

30-   Kyle Padron, SMU

31-   Casey Brochman, Murray State

Running Backs:

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

Wide Receivers:

1-      Keenan Allen, California

2-      Robert Woods, USC

3-      Tavon Austin, West Virginia

4-      Deandre Hopkins, Clemson

5-      Cordarelle Patterson, Tennessee

6-      Markus Wheaton, Oregon State

7-      Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech

8-      Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

9-      Terrance Williams, Baylor

10-   Justin Hunter, Tennessee

11-   Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech

12-   Chris Harper, Kansas State

13-   Ryan Swope, Texas A&M

14-   Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas

15-   Kenny Stills, Oklahoma

16-   Marquise Goodwin, Texas

17-   Tavarres King, Georgia

18-   Ace Sanders, South Carolina

19-   Aaron Dobson, Marshall

20-   Uzoma Nwachukwu, Texas A&M

21-   Conner Vernon, Duke

22-   Corey Fuller, Virginia Tech

23-   Denard Robinson, Michigan

24-   Josh Boyce, TCU

25-   Zach Rogers, Tennessee

26-   Aaron Mellette, Elon

27-   Jasper Collins, Mount Union

28-   Rodney Smith, Florida State

29-   Quentin Sims, Tennessee Martin

30-   TJ Moe, Missouri

31-   Erik Highsmith, North Carolina

32-   Emory Blake, Auburn

33-   Justin Brown, Oklahoma

34-   Chad Bumphis, Mississippi State

35-   Alec Lemon, Syracuse

36-   Marcus Davis, Virginia Tech

37-   Marquess Wilson, Washington State

38-   Keenan Davis, Iowa

39-   Brandon Kaufman, Eastern Washington

40-   MarQueis Gray, Minnesota

Tight Ends:

1-      Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame

2-      Zach Ertz, Stanford

3-      Travis Kelce, Cincinnati

4-      Gavin Escobar, San Diego State

5-      Jordan Reed, Florida

6-      Vance McDonald, Rice

7-      Levine Toilolo, Stanford

8-      Ryan Otten, San Jose State

9-      Nick Kasa, Colordao

10-   Dion Sims, Michigan State

11-   Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State

12-   Joseph Fauria, UCLA

13-   Mychal Rivera, Tennessee

14-   Chris Gragg, Arkansas

15-   Justice Cunningham, South Carolina

16-   Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn

17-   Michael Williams, Alabama

Offensive Tackles:

1-      Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

2-      Eric Fisher, Central Michigan

3-      DJ Fluker, Alabama

4-      Lane Johnson, Oklahoma

5-      Menelik Watson, Florida State

6-      Terron Armstead, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

7-      Dallas Thomas, Tennessee

8-      Brennan Williams, North Carolina

9-      Reid Fragel, Ohio State

10-   Vinston Painter, Virginia Tech

11-   Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin

12-   Oday Aboushi, Virginia

13-   Jordan Mills, Louisiana Tech

14-   Xavier Nixon, Florida

15-   Chris Faulk, LSU

Offensive Guards:

1-      Chance Warmack, Alabama

2-      Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

3-      Larry Warford, Kentucky

4-      Justin Pugh, Syracuse

5-      Kyle Long, Oregon

6-      Hugh Thornton, Illinois

7-      David Bakhtiari, Colorado

8-      Brian Winters, Kent State

9-      David Quessenberry, San Jose State

10-   Alvin Bailey, Arkansas

11-   Garrett Gilkey, Chadron State

12-   J.C. Tretter, Cornell

13-   Earl Watford, James Madison

14-   Jeff Baca, UCLA

Centers:

1-      Travis Frederick, Wisconsin

2-      Brian Schwenke, California

3-      Barrett Jones, Alabama

4-      Khaled Holmes, USC

5-      Dalton Freeman, Clemson

6-      TJ Johnson, South Carolina

Defensive Ends:

1-      Bjoern Werner, Florida State

2-      Tank Carradine, Florida State

3-      Ezekiel Ansah, BYU

4-      Datone Jones, UCLA

5-      Corey Lemonier, Auburn

6-      Damontre Moore, Texas A&M

7-      Quanterus Smith, Western Kentucky

8-      Alex Okafor, Texas

9-      Margus Hunt, SMU

10-   Cornelius Washington, Georgia

11-   William Gholston, Michigan State

12-   Michael Buchanan, Illinois

13-   Sam Montgomery, LSU

14-   Malliciah Goodman, Clemson

15-   David Bass, Missouri Western State

16-   Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

17-   Armonty Bryant, East Central

18-   Tourek Williams, FIU

19-   Lavar Edwards, LSU

20-   Devin Taylor, South Carolina

21-   Mike Catapano, Princeton

22-   Stansly Maponga, TCU

23-   Joe Kruger, Utah

24-   Wes Horton, USC

25-   Meshak Williams, Kansas State

Defensive Tackles:

1-      Sheldon Richardson, Missouri

2-      Star Lotulelei, Utah

3-      Jesse Williams, Alabama

4-      Sylvester Williams, North Carolina

5-      Shariff Floyd, Florida

6-      Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State

7-      Kawann Short, Purdue

8-      Brandon Williams, Missouri Southern State

9-      John Jenkins, Georgia

10-   Bennie Logan, LSU

11-   Akeem Spence, Illinois

12-   Jordan Hill, Penn State

13-   Montori Hughes, Tennessee-Martin

14-   Cory Grissom, South Florida

15-   Josh Boyd, Mississippi State

16-   TJ Barnes, Georgia Tech

17-   Chris Jones, Bowling Green

18-   Everett Dawkins, Florida State

19-   Will Pericak, Colorado

20-   Anthony McCloud, Florida State

Outside Linebacker:

1-      Barkevious Mingo, LSU

2-      Dion Jordan, Oregon

3-      Jarvis Jones, Georgia

4-      Jamie Collins, Southern Mississippi

5-      Alec Ogletree, Georgia

6-      Khaseem Greene, Rutgers

7-      Sio Moore, Connecticut

8-      Jelani Jenkins, Florida

9-      DeVonte Holloman, South Carolina

10-   Zaviar Gooden, Missouri

11-   Sean Porter, Texas A&M

12-   Chase Thomas, Stanford

13-   Trevardo Williams, Connecticut

14-   Ty Powell, Harding

15-   Brandon Magee, Arizona State

16-   John Simon, Ohio State

17-   Gerald Hodges, Penn State

18-   Jake Knott, Iowa State

19-   Lerentee McCray, Florida

20-   Michael Mauti, Penn State

Inside Linebacker:

1-      Arthur Brown, Kansas State

2-      Manti Te’o, Notre Dame

3-      Kevin Minter, LSU

4-      Kiko Alonso, Oregon

5-      Kevin Reddick, North Carolina

6-      Jon Bostic, Florida

7-      AJ Klein, Iowa State

8-      Nico Johnson, Alabama

9-      Keith Pough, Howard

10-   Vince Williams, Florida State

Cornerback:

1-      Xavier Rhodes, Florida State

2-      Dee Milliner, Alabama

3-      Jamar Taylor, Boise State

4-      DJ Hayden, Houston

5-      Jordan Poyer, Oregon State

6-      Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State

7-      Desmond Trufant, Washington

8-      Darius Slay, Mississippi State

9-      Dwayne Gratz, Connecticut

10-   Logan Ryan, Rutgers

11-   David Amerson, NC State

12-   Leon McFadden, San Diego State

13-   Nickell Robey, USC

14-   Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Connecticut

15-   Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

16-   Robert Alford, Southeastern Louisiana

17-   BW Webb, William & Mary

18-   Will Davis, Utah State

19-   Brandon Mcgee, Miami

20-   Dax Swanson, Sam Houston State

21-   Sanders Commings, Georgia

22-   Terry Hawthorne, Illinois

23-   Nigel Malone, Kansas State

24-   Steve Williams, California

25-   Aaron Hester, UCLA

26-   Tharold Simon, LSU

27-   Johnny Adams, Michigan State

28-   Josh Johnson, Purdue

29-   Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech

30-   Mike Edwards, Hawaii

31-   Micah Hyde, Iowa

 

Safeties:

1-      Kenny Vacarro, Texas

2-      Jonathan Cyprien, FIU

3-      Eric Reid, LSU

4-      DJ Swearinger, South Carolina

5-      Bacarri Rambo, Georgia

6-      Phillip Thomas, Fresno State

7-      Matt Elam, Florida

8-      TJ McDonald, USC

9-      Shawn Williams, Georgia

10-   Josh Evans, Florida

11-   Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

12-   Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse

13-   JJ Wilcox, Georgia Southern

14-   Duke Williams, Nevada

15-   Earl Wolfe, NC State

16-   John Boyett, Oregon

17-   Cooper Taylor, Richmond

18-   Robert Lester, Alabama

19-   Damion Stafford, Nebraska

20-   Zeke Motta, Notre Dame

21-   Brandan Bishop, NC State

22-   Rashard Hall, Clemson

23-   Jordan Kovacs, Michigan

24-   Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami

25-   Jawanza Starling, USC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Tom

Preliminary Scouting Report:

Brock Osweiler has a fantastic combination of size, arm strength and accuracy. He has great tools, he just needs more starting experience so he can continue to develop.

Overview: Brock Osweiler stepped into the void left at QB thanks to Steven Threet’s concussion issues last year and he flashed intriguing potential throwing for 797 yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions on 109 passing attempts last season. He started hot this season as well and currently has thrown for 1,352 yards on 117/172 passing (68% completion with 7.9 yards per attempt), 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also has 66 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. He has really demonstrated a lot of potential this year as he has helped upset both Missouri and USC, two pretty established programs. Like the developing Arizona State team Osweiler still has to learn how to finish games and finish teams off, but they have flashed the upside to win their division and compete for the Pac-12 title, especially since they have already beaten their main competition in USC. Osweiler has a lot to do with that emergence.

Size: Osweiler has fantastic size for a quarterback. He is listed at 6’8”, 240 pounds and his size is reminiscent of Ryan Mallett’s size from a year ago.

Arm Strength: Osweiler’s height isn’t the only thing that is reminiscent of Mallett as a prospect. Osweiler might have the strongest arm in the nation now that Mallett has graduated. He has an absolute rocket and he can make absolutely any throw with great zip. He generates a lot of power when he drives through the ball and it really allows him to make some impressive throws even when the timing of the pass isn’t exactly what you would like. He can also put the ball in some really tight spaces because of his pretty quick throwing motion and his strong arm because defensive backs don’t have much time to react to the ball once it is thrown due to the velocity of the throws.

Accuracy: Osweiler’s accuracy was quite surprising to me because I didn’t anticipate him placing the ball as well as he has in all of the games I have watched of him. He was particularly impressive in this aspect against Missouri, but also flashed quality ball placement against Illinois contrary to what you might think looking at his stat line. He throws a good deep ball and does a good job of placing the ball on the correct shoulder of the receiver, but he also throws very accurately into holes in the zone in between multiple defenders and seems to be accurate to all fields as long as he can set and throw. Occasionally he will miss easy throws that he should make without much problem, such as throws into the flat on bubble or tunnel screens. I’m not sure if he is rushing the throw to give the receiver time to make a play before the defense reacts or what, but it happens once or twice a game.

Mechanics: Osweiler’s mechanics are much better than I expected them to be. He has a clean throwing motion that is consistently quick and he drives the ball very well when he releases the ball. He has good footwork when taking snaps from shotgun, but he is almost exclusively a shotgun quarterback which means he will have to develop the ability to make three, five and seven step drops. He steps into the majority of his throws and even flashes the ability to step into a throw even when he knows a hit is coming, which is something that is critical for his progression into a quality NFL starter. He does not fade away from throws as often as I was afraid he might which is good to see.

Osweiler has room to improve when making pre/post snap reads and I would like to see him improve his pocket poise.

Mobility: Osweiler might be a huge quarterback but his mobility isn’t as bad as you might think. His short area quickness is not very impressive, but he does have the ability to make a defender miss in the pocket partially because of his athleticism to avoid him but also because he is just so big and tall that defenders can’t tackle him with a half-assed arm tackle. Thanks to his long strides he can really pick up yardage surprisingly quickly when he is running in a straight line, but he doesn’t change directions very quickly and definitely isn’t a guy you have to scheme against to take away his ability to scramble in that sense. However, he isn’t as much of a statue as you might think he would be at that height.

Pre/Post Snap Reads: This is one place where I think Osweiler needs to improve, but at the same time he only has seven total games of starting experience to this point so he is still developing and learning as a starting quarterback. Regardless, he doesn’t always recognize when blitzes are coming so he doesn’t identify his hot reads, though he does demonstrate the willingness to make checks and audibles at the line of scrimmage which is great to see for a quarterback with such limited starting experience at this point. But he does need to improve his ability to make pre-snap reads at the line of scrimmage, especially since he spends so much time in the shotgun. His post-snap reads are also a bit of a mixed bag because he more than flashes the willingness to go through multiple progressions (which isn’t necessarily typical for a spread offense quarterback) but far too often for my liking he drops his eyes to try to avoid the rush instead of continuing to look downfield. It especially bothers me when he only makes one or maybe two reads and then he drops his eyes and leaves the pocket prematurely when there really isn’t significant pressure that would constitute scrambling outside the pocket. He needs to continue to work on his pre and post snap reads as well as his poise in the pocket. There is potential there, he just needs to continue to develop.

Intangibles: I think Osweiler has pretty good intangibles. As I mentioned earlier I have seen him making checks at the line of scrimmage which is an encouraging sign of football IQ because of how limited his starting experience is. Plus, he has flashed the ability to make pre-snap reads as well as go through multiple progressions, and he tends to make good decisions and doesn’t force a lot of throws into coverage. He’s also fairly reliable late in games, he just hasn’t been on the top of his game late partially because of dropped passes that have killed late drives he has tried to lead. I think he has the ability to be a closer late, and hopefully over the next year and a half he will come into his own in that respect.

Character: I don’t know much about Osweiler’s character or anything like that, but he seems to be a solid leader and his teammates seem to follow him fine. This is something that is nearly impossible to evaluate from an observational perspective since all I can do is watch his games, I can’t actually talk to him and his coaches like NFL scouts can.

Overall: I am a pretty big Osweiler fan. I think he has a ton of upside thanks to his great combination of size, arm strength and accuracy. He’s still developing obviously which is why this is a preliminary scouting report, but I love his upside and I think if he is developed appropriately and coached up he can be a quality starting quarterback in the NFL. He’s got the upside, he just needs to finish the rest of this year and come back for his senior year to continue to get more starting experience before he goes to the NFL. It will be interesting to see how he progresses the rest of the season because he has a lot of upside, but as teams start to figure out some of his tendencies (like dropping his eyes in the face of pressure at times) he may start to struggle a bit. I look forward to seeing how he does the rest of the season because I really think that with him at the helm Arizona State has a chance to represent their division in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Projection: If Osweiler came out this season I think he would be a 3rd round pick because he has so much potential but he is raw and needs to develop for another two years before he would be ready to start. But if he stays for his senior year and comes out for the 2013 draft I think he has 1st round potential and if he continues to progress and develop I think that is where he will end up. Quietly he is 6-1 in his career as a starter against some pretty legitimate competition outside of UC Davis to open this season. He’s definitely one to watch, so if you get a chance to see one of his games you should take a look. You’ll marvel at his size, arm strength and accuracy. He’s got the tools, he just needs more experience.

Thanks for reading, hopefully you enjoyed my Brock Osweiler scouting report!

–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