Tag Archive: Zach Brown


Defensive Ends:

1- Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: Coples was dominant at times this week and looked unblockable in 1 on 1 drills versus almost everyone on the South offensive line. He can be as good as he wants to be thanks to his great combination of size, length and athleticism. He projects to be a great LE in the NFL if he continues to work and provide the effort level that he had this week.

2- Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama: Upshaw has convinced me that he can play 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB. I think he might be a better 3-4 outside linebacker, but he’s got plenty of upside. He might not have ideal measurable and 40 yard dash times, but he is a very strong, powerful player that is fundamentally sound. I wouldn’t bet against Upshaw in the NFL, and I don’t think you should either.

3- Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB, South Carolina: Ingram definitely impressed me this week. I think he can play in both a 4-3 and a 3-4 as well, and should be fine at outside linebacker where I think he might have the most upside. He has an impressive variety of pass rush moves and was all effort this week, taking reps standing up, with his hand in the dirt at DE and even inside at defensive tackle at times in 1 on 1’s.

4- Shea McClellin, DE/OLB, Boise State: McClellin feels like he should be higher on this list, but the three guys ahead of him are potential 1st rounders much like McClellin might end up being. He’s an impressive kid with better speed and pass rushing ability than a lot of people give him credit for. He’s a top 60 pick for sure, may be a top 40 guy when all is said and done.

5- Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall: Curry definitely has upside, and should get a 2nd or 3rd round grade from me after I finish my tape study of him, but he didn’t beat Mike Adams all week and didn’t look overly impressive rushing the passer this week. Once he was engaged he struggled to rush the passer, and while he has size and athletic ability he needs some development.

Defensive Tackles:

1- Mike Martin, DT, Michigan: Martin really impressed me this week. He’s not tall, but he’s very well built and is extremely strong, plus he has natural leverage because of his lack of ideal height. He’s got a terrific motor and very active hands, and just doesn’t stay blocked. He’s going to go higher than a lot of people expect him to.

2- Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson: Thompson definitely showed his athleticism this week when he beat people off the ball initially with his burst and hand usage. He’s a 2nd round pick in my opinion but he’s got plenty of upside as a 3-tech, and he reminds me a bit of Jonathan Babineaux from the Atlanta Falcons.

3- Kendall Reyes, DT, Connecticut: Reyes weighed in lighter than I was hoping him to, but he’s got plenty of burst and athleticism off the snap. He’s got upside as a pass rusher, and might be able to contribute in a rotation early on in his career in pass rushing situations, but I worry about him versus the run. He can penetrate and get into the backfield, but I think he might get washed out in the run game if he doesn’t get stronger and put on a little weight.

4- Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati: Wolfe came into the week very underrated but he had a strong week all week, showing his versatility to play defensive end or defensive tackle. He projects very well to a 5 technique or to a 3 technique at the next level in my opinion. His versatility will definitely help him on draft day, and he really opened some eyes this week if they hadn’t watched him play much. He may end up with a 3rd or 4th round grade from me once all is said and done. I think he has a future as a NFL starter without a doubt.

5- Jaye Howard, DT, Florida: Howard is someone I’ve been a fan of since early on in his junior season when I was watching tape of Florida. He’s got NFL size and athleticism, and I think he may end up in the fourth round when all is said and done. He’s not rated high but he’s got the ability to contribute to a NFL rotation early on in his career.

Linebackers:

1- Keenan Robinson, OLB, Texas: Robinson is my favorite linebacker here and it was really fun to be able to interview him yesterday. He’s a complete linebacker than can play all three positions if needed, but projects best to the weak-side. He’s strong, can attack blocks, is a very good tackler who has pop as a hitter, shows ability in coverage and can blitz when asked to. He’s got it all, and he’s very underrated despite that. I may end up putting a 2nd round grade on him when my film study on him is done.

2- Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: Brown had a great week, partially because the practices were non-contact and he wasn’t able to display his relatively poor tackling skills. This week was the perfect venue for Brown to show off his terrific athleticism and his ability to run around and find the ball. However, when he’s got the pads on and is asked to tackle he will come back down to Earth because he’s not a fundamentally sound tackler and often tries to go for the big hit. He also likes to arm tackle, and doesn’t consistently wrap up at all. I expect two or more missed tackles from him today.

3- Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska: David is an undersized linebacker who will probably have to play weak-side linebacker in the NFL, but he’s a very good tackler who is a pretty complete linebacker himself. If he was a little bit bigger he would be a very highly thought of prospect, and I have always been one who doesn’t like to overlook smaller players with lots of talent.

4- Sean Spence, OLB, Miami: Spence is another undersized playmaker at linebacker. He’s even smaller than David is unfortunately, and at the beginning of the week there was talk of moving him to safety, but I think he has to stay at linebacker personally. He’s got good instincts, is a reliable tackler and shows some ability in coverage. Play him at weak-side linebacker and he should be fine.

5- James-Michael Johnson, ILB, Nevada: JMJ is one of the more athletic middle linebacker prospects in the draft this year. Like Brown, the practices this week were a chance for him to put on a show thanks to his athletic ability. I’m much more interested to see how he tackles today.

Cornerbacks:

1- Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama: Jenkins looked like a 1st round pick the entire week. He’s an impressive athlete  with the ability to play press-man, off-man or zone coverage in my opinion. Some were not high on him coming into the week, but I knew I was watching a special corner when I saw him at Florida. He’s got off-field concerns that will hurt his stock, but I still see him ending up in round 1. I feel more comfortable with him on the field than I do with Dre Kirkpatrick.

2- Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia: Boykin is an undersized corner but he presents plenty of upside as a starter at corner as well as a return man. He won a college football award for versatility this year, and I think he may end up in the 2nd or 3rd round range once all is said and done.

3- Casey Hayward, CB, Vanderbilt: Hayward has been underrated for the last two years but he’s finally starting to catch some people’s eyes. He told me he thought part of that was that not a lot of people watch Vanderbilt, which I definitely think has some merit. But he put his skills on display this week and I think he’s a top 100 player without a doubt.

4- Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma: Fleming is a guy that not a lot of people have been high on, but I like his upside as a man or zone coverage corner. He’s a quality cover man, and I think he has starter potential in the NFL.

5- Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State: Leonard Johnson came into the week with a little hype and I think he lived up to it. He’s not a very good off-man corner, though he does have the ability to mirror receivers which impressed me, but his value comes as a press-man corner or perhaps in zone. I think he’s a top 100 player as well.

6- Ryan Steed, CB, Furman: Steed isn’t a big corner but he has pretty good change of direction ability which he showed this week. He looked better in press-man than off-man, but struggled a bit when asked to locate the ball and make a play on it at times. I haven’t seen much tape on him, but I think he has upside and would like to see more of him if I get the chance.

Safeties:

1- George Iloka, S, Boise State: Iloka is one of the more physically impressive players here thanks to his impressive size, length and athletic ability. He didn’t impress me in man coverage this week, but he’s got pretty good range and his size will help him deep against big, physically imposing receivers at the next level.

2- Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State: Martin didn’t stick out to me a lot this week, but he’s always looked reliable on film and in a weak safety class he may go earlier than he should. I’m interested to see how he does when he’s asked to play deep in pretty vanilla coverages today.

3- Brandon Taylor, S, LSU: Taylor was a playmaker at safety this year for LSU but I didn’t quite see the playmaking ability here this week. He’s definitely a draftable prospect in the 4th round range, but I’m not sure how much upside he has.

4- Antonio Allen, S, South Carolina: Allen is a player that has a good feel for finding the ball and seems to be a pretty reliable tackler. I’m not sure how he is in coverage though, so I’m looking forward to seeing him more today.

5- Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame: Smith has had a solid week but he hasn’t been great. He’s not a flashy player and seems like a pretty reliable guy, but I’m not sure he has starter upside at the next level.

Kickers/Punters:

1- Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M: Bullock was the Lou Groza award winner this year and he was a great kid to talk to when I had the chance. He’s got a strong leg and he’s obviously very accurate, so I’ll be rooting for him in the NFL. He may even have a chance to get drafted, which isn’t a given for kickers.

2- Drew Butler, P, Georgia: Butler has a very strong leg, I noticed it last year when I was scouting Justin Houston. He can really punt that ball a long way, and has a shot at getting drafted even though he had a pretty inconsistent year kicking for Georgia when I watched him.

3- Brad Nortman, P, Wisconsin: Nortman is a very good punter with a strong leg as well. He, Butler and Anger from the Shrine Game all showed draftable ability to me which is pretty rare for punters.

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Offensive Line:

Cordy Glenn (Georgia) was the clear offensive lineman winner today. He showed the ability to play outside at tackle as well as at guard today, and he was effective against every player except for Quinton Coples who was able to beat him on a couple of 1 on 1’s. He’s agile for his size and in talking to scouts they didn’t think his occasional waist-bending was a serious issue. He has the potential to play at four offensive lineman positions. He is strong enough and has a good enough anchor that he can recover if he’s initially pushed back, which enabled him to slow down Courtney Upshaw and Melvin Ingram today.

Glenn’s ability to slow Upshaw and Ingram down today definitely set him apart from Zebrie Sanders (Florida State), Matt McCants (UAB) and James Brown (Troy) today. All three struggled mightily with bull-rushes today and were consistently pushed back and beaten thanks to their lack of lower body strength and ability to anchor. I like Zebrie Sanders’ potential, but his lower body strength is a serious issue right now. I think he has a shot at the 1st round still because of his upside, but he hasn’t been good the last couple of days.

Ben Jones (Georgia) and William Vlachos (Alabama) have had a down week so far in my opinion. Jones is a mid-round center prospect in my opinion who has struggled with bull-rushes and speed at times this week. He’s not a center that can handle defenders one on one in the run game or pass protection for the most part. Vlachos is a very physically limited offensive lineman who has a late round or free agent grade in my opinion. He might stick on a roster because of his football IQ, but his short arms and limited size will hurt him.

Jeff Allen (Illinois) continued a strong week today, this time inside at guard. That versatility will help him as he was consistently good at both tackle and offensive guard this week. Good, not great, but he’s definitely draftable in the 3rd or 4th round range.

Defensive Line:

Quinton Coples (North Carolina) continues to show his fantastic upside. He isn’t a top 10 or possibly a top 15 pick, but he’s definitely got a 1st round grade from me. His upside is incredibly intriguing, but I don’t think he can consistently be a pass rushing force from the RE position, though I do think he could be a fantastic left defensive end. He can be as good as he wants to be, so interviews will be extremely important for him. I saw someone mention it on Twitter, but he seems like a possible candidate for a guy who breaks out in his contract year, earns a huge deal, and never lives up to the deal. He’s got red flags for sure, but his potential is extremely intriguing.

Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) and Melvin Ingrim (South Carolina) continued to impress me. I think they are both versatile enough to play in a 3-4 at OLB or in a 4-3 at left defensive end. They both struggled a bit against Cordy Glenn, but he may be a top 50 prospect in my opinion, so I understand that to an extent.

Kheeston Randall (Texas) continued to struggle today. He showed some of his agility and his athleticism but he struggled to disengage once blocked and too often was effectively blocked by William Vlachos, someone I don’t think is going to be a very effective center in the NFL because of significant physical limitations. However, I like what I have seen from Brandon Thompson (Clemson) and Jaye Howard (Florida). I’ve liked Howard for some time, but Thompson has definitely made it clear that he has quality starter upside as a 3-tech which is what I saw from the tape I’ve watched of him.

Check out NFL Draft Monsters for the rest of our Senior Bowl Coverage!

South Roster Notes:

Tight Ends:

Ladarius Green (Louisiana Lafayette) is my favorite tight end on this roster. He’s my #2 TE in Mobile behind only Michael Egnew, but Green may have just as much upside as any tight end in the draft. His combination of pure size and athleticism is extremely intriguing and like Egnew he has good hands. He needs work as a blocker, but if the effort and work ethic is there that can be coached. But he will be a helluva match-up problem as a receiver who can be split out in the NFL, and those joker tight ends are all the rage right now. He looks like a 2nd or 3rd round prospect to me. Deangelo Peterson (LSU) is another player I’ve liked all year. He’s a sleeper because he never got much of a chance to show what he can do as a receiver at LSU, so he could surprise people once he gets to the next level. He’s got pretty good hands, size and athleticism and should end up in the 4th round or maybe a little higher on draft day. Brad Smelley (Alabama) has had a solid couple of days. He’s not an early-round guy by any means, but he’s draftable and has the work ethic to be a contributor on special teams and work his way up the tight end depth chart despite his lack of great size and athleticism.

Offensive Line:

Zebrie Sanders (Florida State) impressed me today to a point. He’s an impressive athlete with a good first step, he can get out of his stance quickly and block down on defensive tackles which I liked. He really needs to get stronger in the lower body though and his hand placement was an issue today. He was letting his hands get too far outside which will draw holding calls and limit his ability to control the defender after he’s engaged him. He’s struggled to “finish” blocks as well. Multiple times in 1 on 1’s he had won the battle right up until the end when Coples or Ingram would finish and he didn’t. Sustaining that block and playing to the whistle isn’t always something you can coach. He’s got the athleticism and the length to play left tackle though, he just needs some coaching and weight training. I still have a late 1st round grade on him, but he’s obviously not perfect. Jeff Allen (Illinois) continues to impress. I’ll credit Wes Bunting (@WesBunting follow him) for showing me the light on him so to speak, but whenever I watched him I thought he looked like a solid tackle. He’s one of those players that the more I’ve watched him the more I like him. He’s definitely a sleeper at left tackle right now and while he struggled with Coples a couple times today, so did everyone. Allen held his own all day though and impressed scouts without a doubt. He’s got left tackle ability and will definitely go higher than people think. He could go in the 2nd round when all is said and done.

Ben Jones (Georgia) did not impress me today. He was consistently beat off the snap by quicker players like Brandon Thompson and struggled to anchor against stronger players. He’s an average athlete that is a mid-late round player in my opinion, definitely not a 2nd or 3rd round Center. His stock is on its way down in my opinion. William Vlachos (Alabama) also looked bad today. His arms just look remarkably short (he measured in with 30 inch arms, which is not good for an offensive lineman) and he struggled to anchor today as well. He looks like a late round player to me. Matt McCants (UAB) had a bad day as well outside at tackle. He was victimized multiple times by Coples and Ingram as well as Courtney Upshaw. He has little strength in his lower body and it showed today. But he doesn’t look like an impressive athlete and just flat got beat off the edge a couple of times today. He’s not earning a high grade from me either, though I still need to study him. Will Blackwell (LSU) didn’t look very good to me today either, though he was solid. He’s an average player in my eyes, not sure how much starting potential he has. He’s got a draftable grade from me, but didn’t impress me too much today.

Philip Blake (Baylor) impressed me today though. He showed a strong anchor and looked pretty good at guard and at center today. I will definitely be keeping an eye on him the rest of the week. Cordy Glenn (Georgia) was a very pleasant surprise as I didn’t expect a great week from him. He didn’t show much bend in his waist and had an impressive ability to anchor and sustain. He’s an impressive player that might be able to stick outside at tackle or succeed inside at guard. He’s definitely above Kelechi Osemele on my board right now. Troy Brown (Troy) didn’t impress me much today though. He didn’t look very good at tackle, and I think he might have to shift inside at the next level. He’s a solid player, but I’m not sold on him at tackle.

Defensive Line:

Quentin Coples (North Carolina) was the biggest winner out of anyone I watched today. The guy absolutely has top 5 talent, it’s just a question of how much he wants it. He will be as good as he wants to be, so it’s a question of desire and work ethic for judging him. Hopefully I’ll be able to get a sense of that throughout the week. He is just so athletic for his size that he had me drooling at his potential as a strong side end in a 4-3. He’s not an ideal right end in my opinion but as a left end he could be one of the best in the league if he wants it bad enough. I just hope he lands somewhere with a great defensive line coach that can light a fire under him. He’s got some red flags around him, but his upside is as intriguing as any defensive player in this entire draft in my opinion. Melvin Ingram (South Carolina) and Courtney Upshaw (Alabama) continued to impress me today. Ingram looked very fluid in pass rush drills, showed an impressive variety of pass rush moves and consistently won 1 on 1 battles in the pit. I think he is fluid enough to be a 3-4 OLB and I think he has enough strength and power to play 4-3 DE. He’s a versatile player that will likely earn a 1st round grade from me once I’m able to watch him more on tape. Upshaw is such a physically impressive player. He’s not a freak from a measurables standpoint but you can tell he’s going to be a quality player in the NFL from watching him. He’s so strong and physical that I would never bet against him. His lack of length might limit his upside a bit, but there’s no question he can be a starting outside linebacker in a 3-4 or maybe even a 4-3 left end. I just haven’t watched him enough yet, but I like his game.

My two favorite defensive tackles on this roster were Brandon Thompson (Clemson) and Jaye Howard (Florida). Thompson has solid measurables and packed 311 pounds onto his 6’2” frame but his burst and quickness is my favorite part about his game. He gets off the ball very quickly and overwhelmed some of the interior linemen on the South today. He was consistently disruptive all practice and looks like a quality 3-tech in the NFL, perhaps a similar player to Jonathan Babineaux on the Atlanta Falcons. Howard is a guy I’ve liked since I watched him play over the course of his junior season and I was happy to get to see him live today. He’s lighter than I would have liked right now, but he beat Cordy Glenn a couple times in 1 on 1 drills. He’s got some burst and athleticism, but I’d like to see him get stronger and get up above 300 pounds for sure.

Kheeston Randall (Texas) continued to disappoint today. He got pancaked by Ben Jones, a player I am not high on, and struggled consistently against everyone he went up against. He won a couple of battles, but his stock has been slipping all season and nothing I saw today will change that. He looks like a guy who will go in the 4th round range to me. He’s got the size you’d love in a defensive tackle but he has limited length and he weighed in at under 300 pounds. He’s got potential, but he hasn’t lived up to it at all. Tydreke Powell (North Carolina) and Tony Jerod-Eddie (Texas A&M) both showed some ability as bull-rushers in 1 on 1 drills when they were able to push their man off the ball, but neither showed the ability to shed and they look like 2-down guys in the NFL. Powell plays too high at times and negates his strength, and on film I’ve seen him try to penetrate upfield and make plays in the backfield despite his lack of great burst or quickness. He’s a mid-round guy in my opinion, and I’m not sure he has much upside. Jerod-Eddie is similar but when I’ve seen him he seems like he has a bit better gap responsibility, but I haven’t done enough study on him yet. He seems like he could possibly be a 3-4 defensive end, but if he plays defensive tackle in a 4-3 he would strictly be a run stopper.

Linebackers:

I think my favorite linebacker in all of Mobile is Keenan Robinson (Texas). He’s got experience playing all three linebacker positions but I think his best position is probably the weak-side. He’s a helluva hitter, a very good tackler and he has ability in coverage. He’s a complete linebacker and he’s going to be a riser after this week. Keep an eye on him at practice, he will impress you. One player who surprised me a bit was Zach Brown (North Carolina). I shouldn’t be so surprised he looked good in practice because that is when he should theoretically look best since there is no tackling allowed and that is something he struggles to do. But he took better angles than I saw on tape and clearly has all the athleticism you could want in coverage. Sean Spence (Miami) was disruptive today and when you watch him you can’t help but imagine how good he would be if he was bigger. His weigh-in likely hurt his stock, but in the right system (perhaps a Cover-2 or heavy zone system) he could be an impact linebacker. Nigel Bradham (Florida State) is another player I like. He’s just a solid, fundamentally sound guy that I think has a NFL future as a starter. I’ve liked him since his junior year, so I am excited to take a closer look at him the rest of the week when I have the chance.

I was focusing on the offensive line and the defensive line today, but my colleague at NFL Draft Monsters Brandon Howard was keeping an eye on the skill position players today. Give him a follow on Twitter @DashDiallo1 and follow this link to see the rest of our coverage of the South practice! Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Defensive Line:

Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall: Curry is a very talented player but when I watched him I just didn’t see 1st round ability from him. He’s been very productive at Marshall and deserves to be at the Senior Bowl, I just don’t know that I buy him as a 1st round pick based on the film I’ve seen of him. I will be very interested to see how he does against this significant jump in competition.

Mike Martin, DT, Michigan: Martin is an all effort/all hustle defensive tackle that I like despite his lack of size. He’s going to be a rotational guy from day one in the NFL in my opinion and while he won’t wow people at the weigh-in I think he is going to make an impact at the next level.

Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State: I’m glad McClellin got an invite here because I like him as a defensive end. I don’t think he’s a 1st rounder but he’s definitely in the 2nd/3rd round range on my board right now and I haven’t done much film study on him yet. He’s got some edge speed and if he filled out his frame a little bit I think he could be a 4-3 left end and apply a pass rush from the position which is much harder to find that many realize. He can definitely help himself this week, so I’m looking forward to watching him.

Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington: Ta’amu had a TON of hype going into the bowl game against Baylor and then Baylor ran right up the middle all game and people started to hop off the bandwagon. Ta’amu didn’t impress me in that game at all obviously, but he didn’t get to be a legitimate NFL prospect because he played like that all season. He will make himself a lot of money this week if he shows he can stand up to double teams and that he has some burst off the line of scrimmage. But he will continue to drop if he gets washed out versus the run and shows no push as a pass rusher.

Billy Winn, DT, Boise State: Winn is a guy I have been high on since last year, he’s got impressive size and length based on the film I’ve seen of him and I really like his upside as a 4-3 DT or as a 3-4 defensive end. He’s got versatility and I think he’s going to end up going in the first two rounds, especially since this defensive tackle class isn’t exactly stacked.

Derek Wolfe, DT, Cincinnati: Wolfe is an underrated player that doesn’t have huge upside but I think he has starting potential in the NFL. Brandon Holstein (@NFLDraftRoundUp on Twitter, follow him) pointed him out to me the first time months ago this season and when I got a chance to watch him I liked what I saw. Again, he’s not a stud defensive tackle but he is definitely draftable in the 3rd/4th round range in my opinion and I look forward to seeing what he can do this week.

Andre Branch, DE, Clemson: Andre Branch was a player that I did not like at ALL when I watched him as a junior last season with Bowers opposite him, so I did not have high expectations for him as a senior at all. Most of his pressure on the quarterback came as a result of one on one’s and he didn’t show that he could use his hands at all and accomplished all his production thanks to his athleticism. But this year he flashed hand usage and the ability to use pass rush moves when I watched him. He has a TON to prove this week because if he has a good week he could be one of the biggest winners of the Senior Bowl thanks to his prototypical defensive end size and athleticism. Keep an eye out for Branch because he could make himself a ton of money this week.

Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina: Coples came into the season projected to be a top 5 pick and his stock has slowly slid ever since then. He didn’t live up to expectations as a defensive end this year and plenty of people are projecting him inside to defensive tackle. I have no doubt that he could bulk up to play defensive tackle, but I haven’t given up hope on him as a left end. I think people really underestimate how difficult it is to find a left defensive end that can play the run and rush the passer at a high level. Coples has that potential and I think that is what will keep him from sliding out of the top 20 or 25 ultimately. He has a lot to prove this week as well, and as a Tar Heel fan I will certainly be rooting for him.

Jaye Howard, DT, Florida: I am really happy that Howard is here. I remember watching him as a junior and thinking that he definitely had draftable ability and I believe he was on my list of potential break-out players this year. He definitely deserves to be here and he could open some eyes this week. He’s not the flashiest guy but he is reliable and should make some plays in the backfield this week.

Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina: Ingram has a chance to make himself a lot of money this week as well. He’s got quality size for a defensive end and has really improved his stock over the course of the season when everyone (including me) thought Devin Taylor and Jadeveon Clowney would be the talk of the defensive end position. I’m excited to see him live this week.

Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina: Powell is a player that I personally think is very overrated. He’s got a late round grade from me at this point and having seen a significant amount of film on him I’m not sure there’s a lot he can do this week to change my mind. His upside in the NFL is a 4-3 NT but he doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher and he doesn’t defend the run well either. His best bet is to land in a scheme that asks all of their defensive linemen to penetrate and make plays in the backfield, but he isn’t the athlete to consistently do that (it’s just what he likes to do, based on film). Powell could get exposed this week if he doesn’t play with better gap responsibility, and I have no reason to think he will based on the film I’ve watched.

Courtney Upshaw, DE/OLB, Alabama: I’m very glad Upshaw is here and I’m sure a lot of other people are as well. He will likely be playing out of position at 4-3 DE all week, but he has enough ability to play with his hand down and succeed even if his best position is 3-4 OLB in my eyes. I’m excited to see him in person because he really impressed me when I watched him this year, especially in the National Championship.

Linebackers:

Honestly, I’m not wowed with the linebackers here. Zach Brown (North Carolina) is the odds on favorite to be the first one drafted, but I’m not high on him and he looks like a better athlete than a linebacker when I watch him. He won’t be able to show his tackling ability this week so he could really impress people thanks to his athleticism and potential but he struggles with wrapping up and making quality tackles. One guy I do like is Nigel Bradham (Florida State). He’s not an elite prospect but I think he will be a NFL starter in a 4-3 defense. Another guy I am very high on is Keenean Robinson from Texas. He’s got great instincts and may be my odds on favorite to boost his stock as much as any other linebacker in Mobile this week. Look out for him, he is an absolute player.

Defensive Backs:

This defensive back group took a hit when Mark Barron (Alabama) announced that he would not be here this week, but it makes sense that he elected to skip it because his stock can really only go down at this point. I’m very excited to see Casey Hayward (Vanderbilt) who I have been talking up for well over a year at corner, Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama, formerly of Florida), Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska), Jamell Fleming (Oklahoma) and Leonard Johnson (Iowa State). Jenkins was a corner I was very high on when he was at Florida, so it will be fun to see him in person despite the troubles he has this past year. Jamell Fleming and Hayward were both on my potential break-out players list that I posted before the season this year, so I am very excited to see both of them live. I really like both of them in coverage even though they may not have prototypical size (Hayward may be 5’9” or 5’10”) and speed. They’re good cover corners and that should show this week.

Renner has plenty of potential and I'm excited to see what the future holds for him and North Carolina's offense now that Larry Fedora is running things.

Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina: Renner is a quality QB but in his first year as a starter he wasn’t able to win the bowl game this year. However, he returns a lot of talent next year as a junior in Giovanni Bernard, Erik Highsmith (who was his real go-to guy today) and Jheranie Boyd. Additionally he will have an experienced offensive line blocking for him. He made some significant strides this year and finished with the 2nd most passing yards in North Carolina history thanks in part to the weapons he had at his disposal on offense (Dwight Jones most notably) and to Bernard establishing a running game. There’s plenty of upside there and you have to be excited by the hire of Larry Fedora who will hopefully aid Renner’s development like he did with Austin Davis. Renner has above average arm strength, solid accuracy and he’s more athletic than most realize. However, he spent too much time dropping his eyes to look at the rush and was left scrambling on 3rd and long situations too much that led to punts. That’s not all on him since he didn’t always have much to do with the negative plays that led to the 3rd and long situations, but it does provide evidence that he needs to develop as a quarterback. Not sure he will ever be a great NFL prospect, but he’s got the ability to be a quality college and NFL quarterback if he is developed correctly.

Giovanni Bernard, RB, North Carolina: Bernard is a special running back and I think he is going to end up going in the first round eventually. He started slow in this game but he showed his potential when he was had some room to run. He’s surprisingly patient for a freshman running back, he has impressive burst, good speed, catches the ball well out of the backfield, has impressive shiftiness as a runner and can run through arm tackles effectively. He’s got a boatload of upside and if Renner stays through his senior season then he could help fuel a very intriguing offensive unit for the Tar Heels.

Ryan Houston, RB, North Carolina: I didn’t see him get a single carry in this game which really is a shame. He was a senior in his final game, and makes me wonder if he was becoming a problem child in the locker room or if he wasn’t keeping his weight in check. Earlier in the year he looked much lighter and effective but didn’t warrant much if any work in this game. I’m hoping he gets an invite to some kind of All-Star Game so he can show what he can do because I think he warrants at least UDFA consideration. Will he be drafted? Honestly, probably not. But I still think he can contribute. Here’s hoping he gets his shot to do just that.

Dwight Jones has plenty of upside thanks to his size and athleticism but his hands are inconsistent and I don't think he has the potential to be a #1 target in the NFL.

Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina: Dwight Jones started out with an impressive touchdown catch as well as a couple other receptions but he really struggled to catch the ball after that as he had at least three drops that I counted. When it comes down to it his hands just aren’t that good. He body catches regularly and doesn’t make very many tough catches away from his body which limits his range as a receiver and means whoever is throwing him the ball has to make a stick throw right on his body or he isn’t as likely to catch it. He can threaten teams deep and has an impressive combination of size and speed but his hands just aren’t what you would expect them to be. He has upside without a doubt but I don’t think he has the makings of a #1 receiver in the NFL at all. I don’t think he is a leader that can be counted upon for a big catch when you need a 3rd down conversion or a critical touchdown, nor do I think he had the right attitude when the Tar Heels were losing this game in the 1st half and again in the 2nd half. I don’t really think it’s a coincidence that he was not targeted after dropping a number of passes and had nothing to do with their most successful scoring drives after his initial touchdown reception. Jones is a quality NFL prospect with upside but there is no way I would put a first round grade on him. Like I thought earlier in the year I still have a 2nd-3rd round grade on him and I don’t think he will be a #1 receiver in the NFL, though I do think if he landed in the right situation he could be a quality #2.

Erik Highsmith, WR, North Carolina: I am convinced that Highsmith has the best hands of any receiver on the Tar Heels this year. He made a number of catches in traffic and made catches to convert 3rd downs when the team needed it the most. He did a good job catching passes away from his body, making catches despite contact and moving the chains for the Heels. He even got vertical once or twice but the passes were underthrown from Renner (evidence of less than ideal arm strength) and he couldn’t come down with them. Highsmith will be back for his senior season and with quality size at 6’3” (he only weighs 190 pounds according to the listing I found, but he’s been adding weight every year) as well as 49 receptions, 726 yards and 5 TD’s after the bowl game today. He should be Renner’s go-to receiver next year when he needs to move the chains and in the red zone especially.

Jheranie Boyd, WR, North Carolina: Boyd may not have great hands, much like Jones, as he body catches frequently and I’m not convinced he has the range to make catches outside of his body like Highsmith does but boy can he stretch a defense vertically. He has impressive speed to get downfield despite a surprising listed 40 yard dash time of 4.52. He looks a LOT faster than that on the field, and I have a feeling that that time is not accurate. Regardless, he stretched the defense vertically very effectively today and finished with three receptions for 95 yards and a 44 yard touchdown. That gives him 14 receptions, 292 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season. That may not be an impressive stat line, but keep in mind that the Tar Heels offense was pretty balanced this year with its first 1,000 yard rusher in over a decade in Bernard and well over half of Renner’s passing yards were accounted for by Jones and Highsmith. Boyd’s role should increase next year as long as he can continue to haul passes in, avoid drops, and stretch defenses vertically.

Jon Cooper will be one of the top three senior offensive guards in the country next year so keep an eye on him.

Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina: Cooper is a quality guard prospect and should be one of the top three senior offensive guards in the nation next year especially if David DeCastro of Stanford elects to declare for the 2012 NFL Draft. Cooper has quality size at 6’3”, 310 pounds but moves very well for his size as evidenced by how well he gets to the second level and by how well he pulls. I haven’t been able to evaluate him as much in one on one situations when trying to drive block, but he is definitely the Heels’ best offensive lineman. Look out for him next year!

Travis Bond, OG, North Carolina: I wasn’t able to see much of Bond today but he is the “other” offensive guard prospect on the Tar Heels. He’s much larger than Cooper as he stands at 6’6”, 340 pounds and is less mobile than the nimble Cooper. His size helps and hurts because he is the size of an offensive tackle but is inside at guard which can create issues against smaller defensive tackles that can gain automatic leverage because of his height. I’ll make sure to watch him more next year since it wasn’t much of a priority since I was confident that he wasn’t going to declare, but keep an eye on him since he will be in the 3rd-4th round mix next year.

Quentin Coples, DE, North Carolina: Coples may be the most well-known prospect on the Tar Heels and for good reason. He’s a talented player with a great combination of size, athleticism and strength. He has very strong hands which he uses to help him shed blocks and keep blockers off of him. He is listed at 6’6”, 285 pounds with a 4.76 40 yard dash time. His edge speed isn’t great and I think that is going to prevent him from being an impact 10+ sack player in the NFL, but I do think he will be a quality 4-3 LE if he is drafted. That makes me think he won’t be a top 10 pick like a lot of people thought he would be coming into the season, but I could see him as a top 20 overall selection because a 4-3 that can stop the run and rush the passer is a pretty rare find. Coples has shown he can do that and that he has a quality motor, though I don’t think his football IQ and recognition skills are very impressive. The Heels gave up a staggering number of rushing yards today, but the defensive tackles were more to blame for that than Coples was in my opinion. Coples played a role in it, but I don’t think that it was necessarily indicative of his run defense as an individual. I would be very surprised if he dropped out of the 1st round after a less than stellar senior season but I don’t think he should go in the top 10 at this point.

Donte Paige-Moss underwhelmed just about everyone this year as many expected him to declare after this season and go in the 1st or 2nd round.

Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina: Paige-Moss was widely considered a possible early declaration and a potential 1st round draft pick before the season began (despite some claims that he was overrated from a select few, you know who you are) but he had a minimal impact all season and was replaced by Kareem Martin opposite Coples for the entire season. Paige-Moss is a freak athlete but his technique is almost non-existent and his only success occurs when he can beat the offensive tackle off the edge using his impressive athleticism to run around the edge for the sack. He’s got a lot of upside still, but without getting stronger and learning some semblance of hand usage he won’t ever live up to his potential. One slight sign of hope is that Paige-Moss made a great effort pursuing downfield and from the backside today which was encouraging to see when many Tar Heel defenders seemed to be going through the motions. This offseason will be crucial for him because if he hits the weight room and works on his hand usage then he might be able to redeem himself. It’s all up to him and what level of work he is willing to put in. I’m not saying he is going to prove his doubters wrong, of which I am one of them based on his performance this year, but I can’t rule it out.

Tydreke Powell, DT, North Carolina: Tydreke Powell is a solid NFL Draft prospect and he will likely be at the Senior Bowl in Alabama (hopefully I will be as well) but he played poorly today. His upside as a pass rusher is limited and I don’t think he will be a significant pass rusher in the NFL by any means, but if he is going to be able to be a 2-down nose tackle in a 4-3 or a 3-4 he is going to have to hold up against the run well and he was struggling in that aspect today. He was able to penetrate on occasion, but he was not maintaining his gap responsibility at all and that led to gaping holes for Missouri up the middle for Franklin, Lawrence and Moore to run through. It was pathetic to be honest, and Powell is the nose tackle that is usually double teamed and frankly he wasn’t doing his job. This game isn’t a 100% accurate reflection of his ability but it definitely hurts his stock in my eyes. His value is going to be as an occasional penetrator but primarily being able to stand up effectively versus double teams and not get washed out. He didn’t do a good job of that today and that hurts his stock going into the All-Star game portion of the year.

Sylvester Williams has a ton of potential and should be back for his senior season. He's very raw and is still early on in his development as a defensive tackle, but with quality coaching he could be a stud.

Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: Williams was the other starting defensive tackle for the Heels today and while I love his upside as a prospect he also struggled to stop the run today against Missouri. He was mostly facing double teams but he was pushed off the ball more than I would like and struggled to get off blocks at times. He’s a very raw player as he barely played football in high school and played at a junior college before transferring to the Tar Heels. He’s got a ton of upside but he is still developing, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he hasn’t developed the technique necessary to be a dominant defensive tackle. He definitely has that upside and has definitely flashed his upside by penetrating and disrupting plays in the backfield. The next step is to get stronger, develop his hand usage and learn to stand up better versus one on one blocks to avoid getting washed out. He definitely contributed to the problems today but because he isn’t often lined up at nose tackle he isn’t always the key cog to holding up the offensive linemen at the point of attack. He is asked to win one on one match-ups more often than not, Powell is usually the guy that is expected to occupy the double team and keep the linebackers clean. Neither happened today and that was what led to a lot of running lanes up the middle for Missouri.

Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina: Zach Brown has a lot of upside due to his athletic ability but he struggles against the run at times and that is very concerning to me. He’s pretty good in coverage and he made a great catch on an interception today but he very rarely made plays versus the run and on the seemingly infrequent occasion that he was in position to make a play he missed at least four or five tackles and I only saw him wrap up for a tackle one time the entire game on a tackle he made late in the 2nd half at the line of scrimmage. His tackling and run defense is a serious concern, but his ability to blitz allows him to make plays in the backfield due to his athleticism and he is so athletic that he makes plays in coverage. I just don’t think he’s a very sound football player and that’s why I don’t have a 1st round grade on him and personally think he is quite overrated. He’s got a lot of potential but he doesn’t fight off blocks well, he isn’t a good tackler and he will be a liability versus the run unless he gets stronger. I have a 3rd round grade on him currently because he has

Reddick is a quality middle linebacker and while he is a better tackler than Zach Brown he still tackles too high at times.

Kevin Reddick, ILB, North Carolina: Reddick is a quality linebacker that should come back for his senior season. He’s a junior so he is draft eligible but I think that even though there may be sanctions and a transition from Butch Davis’ regime to Larry Fedora’s it would be good for him as a prospect if he returned. Hopefully Fedora finds a defensive coordinator that likes to attack because the Heels defense is ferocious when it can dictate games with its athleticism and pass rush. That said, Reddick is a solid NFL Draft prospect himself and I think he is a more fundamentally sound football player than his teammate Zach Brown. He’s a better tackler than Brown (even though he attempts more arm tackles and tackles high more than I would like) and at 6’3”, 240 with a listed 40 time of 4.67 he isn’t a slouch when it comes to combinations of size and athletic ability. He missed a tackle or two today as well and isn’t necessarily the impact player that Brown is at times, but he is more reliable in my opinion. It will be interesting to see if he comes back or not but I think it makes sense for him to return. He isn’t an elite prospect and even if he comes back next year I wouldn’t expect him to go much higher than the 3rd round.

Charles Brown, CB, North Carolina: Brown is another undersized, primarily zone corner that the Tar Heels have produced but I don’t think he is as good as Burney was at the position. Brown is a solid tackler and is decent against the run but his only value is in zone coverage and even in that aspect he is not much more than above average. He can close on plays in front of him but his ball skills are less than stellar and his ability in man coverage is limited by his lack of size, speed and ball skills. He will be a late round pick if he is drafted at all, and if he is drafted when Burney went undrafted it would be a pity. Burney was always the better corner in my mind.

James Franklin has definitely progressed since the beginning of the season and that is encouraging. He threw 8 of his 11 total interceptions in three games, so it will be interesting to see how he does in the SEC.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Franklin had a terrific first half but demonstrated some of his inconsistencies by struggling at times in the second half. Some of that was the playcalling taking the foot off the gas to some extent, but he was not making the same impressive stick throws he was in the first half. He was very productive thanks to his rushing total but his passing wasn’t as impressive nor was his decision making. He’s got upside due to his size, arm strength and developing accuracy as well as his athleticism to pick up yardage with his legs. He’s improved since the beginning of the season in my opinion, and that’s all you can ask for from a young quarterback. It will be interesting to see what strides he can take next season as a junior against tougher defenses in the SEC.

L’Damian Washington, WR, Missouri: L’Damian Washington is definitely a WR to keep an eye on. For one he is a great story even beyond football thanks to all he and his family have been through which makes it even more fun to see him having success on the football field. On top of that, he’s a 6’4″, 185 pound receiver that increased his production from 5 receptions for 35 yards and 0 TD’s as a freshman to 20 receptions, 364 yards (leading to a team-leading 18.20 yards per reception average) and 3 touchdowns. Those numbers are sure to increase over the next two years as he and James Franklin continue to develop together. He demonstrated reliable hands against North Carolina and has intriguing upside because of his size, athleticism, body control and hands. Keep an eye on this kid, I know I’m rooting for him.

Wes Kemp, WR, Missouri: Kemp is a senior wide receiver on Missouri that will probably not end up getting drafted however he has a pretty impressive combination of size and athleticism as he stands at 6’4″, 220 pounds and has a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.47. I don’t think he’s much of a sleeper and at best will be a 7th round pick barring a significant stock jump thanks to an All-Star game or an impressive performance at the combine. This is largely due to his inconsistent hands that led to some drops when I watched him last year against Blaine Gabbert and his production did not elevate as a senior. He will intrigue some teams because of his physical attributes, but at best I see him improving his hands and developing into a solid #4 or #5 receiver in the NFL, and that is assuming he makes a roster. But don’t be surprised if teams give him a shot because you can’t find 6’4″, 220 pound receivers that run a 4.5 or faster everywhere.

Moe isn't the biggest or the fastest player in Missouri, but he may be the most reliable and while it isn't flashy it certainly counts for something.

T.J. Moe, WR, Missouri: Moe is a pretty underrated receiver that has solid NFL upside. He’s not the biggest, the fastest or the most explosive but he was Gabbert’s most reliable target last year and I don’t think that has changed with Franklin throwing him the ball. Moe had 54 receptions, 649 yards and 4 touchdowns receiving this year and also contributed 61 yards rushing, 47 yards on punt returns and a solid 607 yards with a 23.35 yards per return on kick-offs. He is listed at 5’11”, 195 pounds with a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.49 and none of that blows you away, but he is as reliable as they come and should have a good senior season next year. I’m not sure he will be more than a 4th round pick because I’m not sure he has a lot of upside since what you see is what you get with him: a receiver that doesn’t have great size or great speed but has very reliable hands and will make plays for you when you really need it. He won’t be at the top of everyone’s list but he will be one of those guys that goes a little lower than he probably should but then surprises everyone in training camp when he catches everything and becomes a favorite of the coaching staff.

Does this look familiar? If you watched the Saints beat the Falcons on Monday Night Football you saw Jimmy Graham catch a very similar touchdown against a quality corner Brent Grimes. Egnew has similar potential.

Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri: Egnew may be the most underrated tight end in the country right now. He’s got great size at 6’6”, 245 pounds and a very impressive listed 40 yard dash time of 4.6 flat. He is definitely an impressive athletic specimen and when you combine that with his very reliable hands you have a very intriguing tight end on your hands. His closest comparison may be Jimmy Graham to his combination of great size, athleticism and very reliable hands (though Graham does drop passes from time to time). However, Egnew is often split out as a receiver and rarely lines up and blocks as an inline tight end which will be one of the major things he has to work on. His blocking has not been demonstrated like the other top draft eligible tight ends and that will make teams that run the ball a lot with an inline tight end blocking wonder if he will be a good fit in their scheme. Additionally he is rarely jammed off the line of scrimmage allowing for an easy release which won’t continue in the NFL. Despite this both his blocking and defeating jams off the line of scrimmage can be coached and that makes me think that if he is picked anywhere outside of the top 50 that he may be one of the better values in the draft.

Dan Hoch, OT, Missouri: Hoch is a guy that I thought might be able to slide over to LT at some point when I was scouting Blaine Gabbert last year. That never really materialized but I think he may have draftable ability as an offensive tackle prospect. He doesn’t have very good athleticism but he has great size at 6’6”, 320 pounds as well as quality length. If he is drafted it will be as a late round pick in the 6th or 7th round but the more likely scenario may be signing with a team as an undrafted free agent and attempting to make a roster that way.

Jacquies Smith, DE, Missouri: I honestly didn’t see much of Smith today and that might be a pretty accurate reflection of the impact he had this year. It’s pretty clear to me that Aldon Smith created the havoc as a pass rusher for Missouri last year and that Jacquies Smith was more of a secondary pass rush option that benefited from his presence opposite him. Without Aldon Smith around Jacquies Smith’s numbers dropped slightly from 10.0 TFL’s and 5.5 sacks to 8.0 TFL’s and 5.0 sacks. Now, that isn’t a huge drop, but with or without Aldon Smith it demonstrates that Jacquies Smith isn’t an impact pass rusher and that hurts his stock. However, he does have the build and some athletic ability to offer possible upside thanks to his 6’3”, 255 pound frame and his listed 40 yard dash time of 4.62. He’s got upside due to his athleticism but his production has been less than impressive. I still need to watch him more to determine exactly why, but I would be surprised if he went before the 4th round when players with measurables but limited production tend to start coming off the board.

Hamilton may not be a stud DT prospect but he definitely has draftable ability as a 4-3 NT and I think he may go as high as the 5th round.

Dominique Hamilton, DT, Missouri: Hamilton seemed to have a pretty good game today as Missouri bottled up a very good running back in Giovanni Bernard early and often despite the occasional quality run. Hamilton may not be a household name at defensive tackle and honestly I haven’t scouted him specifically at this time, but at 6’5”, 305 pounds he definitely has the size to play NT in the NFL either as a 4-3 NT or as a 3-4 NT depending on whether he can add weight to that frame. I’d be surprised if he couldn’t to be honest, and judging by the issues UNC had running up the middle I’d say Hamilton can create some problems by occupying blockers in the middle. It sure would have been interesting to see if Hamilton could have made the same impact for the Tar Heels at nose tackle today, but that is neither here nor there. Right now I don’t have a great fix on Hamilton’s ability but there are a number of quality nose tackle prospects popping up in this 2012 class so don’t be surprised if you see a number of defensive tackles drafted this year. There may not be a lot of elite talent but it seems to be shaping up to have some depth to it.

Zaviar Gooden, OLB, Missouri: Gooden is a junior linebacker for Missouri who flashed some potential today and made a very impressive interception on a ball that rolled on Dwight Jones’ back that he managed to corral before it hit the ground. He’s definitely on the draft radar for next year and hopefully he goes back to school to continue to improve. He’s 6’2”, 230 pounds and has a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.67. He’s not a freak athlete as far as size or athleticism is concerned, but he was pretty productive this year with 80 total tackles (54 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 4 pass break-ups, 2 interceptions and one blocked kick. It will be interesting to see how he does next year in the SEC against potentially tougher competition.
Thanks for stopping by and thanks for reading! More prospect recaps are on the way as bowl season heats up!

–Tom

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

Get ready guys, this is a long post. It’s over 4,000 words long. You might have to break this one up since it will take a while to read. Enjoy the info!

Logan Thomas: Thomas started a bit slow, but overall I was very impressed. He made some legitimate NFL throws last night and continued to flash his great arm strength that made Virginia Tech want to groom him as Tyrod Taylor’s replacement instead of playing him at tight end like he wanted to. He believed that was his best shot at the NFL, but clearly Virginia Tech was right to play him and develop him as a quarterback. He has size and athleticism that is reminiscent of Cam Newton and is equally difficult to tackle in the backfield and when he scrambles for yardage with his legs. His accuracy is the thing he needs to improve on the most, but it looks much better and more consistent than it did when I saw him earlier in the year. He’s still raw and developing but he’s got tons of upside. As he continues to work on his mechanics and develop pocket poise he could develop into a potential first round quarterback prospect. He’s definitely intriguing, but while he has plenty of upside due to his great combination of size, arm strength and athleticism he still has to continue to work on his fundamentals. As he continues to do that he will become more consistent and really start to legitimize himself as a NFL prospect. It will be fun to potentially watch him in the ACC Championship game as well as a potential BCS Bowl Game. I have been waiting for this Logan Thomas to show up all year as I listed him as a potential break-out player for this season in his first year as a starter, so it is encouraging to see him continually developing week to week.

Bryn Rynner: I was very impressed with Rynner in this game. He didn’t have an elite stat line as he was only 14/26 for 224 yards (8.6 yards per attempt) and 1 touchdown, but he didn’t throw an interception against a pretty talented Virginia Tech defense even if they were missing a few players because of injury. He made some impressive throws, displayed a live arm, and extended plays effectively thanks to his athleticism. He’s not a very big quarterback, but I was impressed by his quality arm strength and accuracy. I think he and North Carolina have a bright future as he continues to develop.

David Wilson: Wilson has world class speed first of all. That is obvious the second he touches the ball. He can run between the tackles, he has surprisingly good leg drive given his size, he has reliable hands out of the backfield and he seems to have pretty good vision to find cutback lanes and other seams to run through. The problem with him is that because of his speed he will try to make big plays happen a bit too often when he needs to just gain yardage. This usually happens when he tries to bounce plays outside when he can’t find room to run inside. That doesn’t work against faster defenses though, which resulted in a TFL or two against North Carolina. Wilson is a very versatile weapon though, and given the shelf life of running backs I think he should declare after this year. I think that given the correct situation he could have a Demarco Murray type impact on a roster. He’s a dynamic player who has proven he can be the feature back in college. I’m not positive he can do this at the next level, but he has the potential to be a game changer.

Giovanni Bernard: Bernard scared me when he left the game with an injury but it was reported as only a mild concussion which is great news. Hopefully he will be back for the game against Duke, but as long as he is healthy long term I’d be just fine with him missing it. He is UNC’s first 1,000 yard rusher since 1997 which is almost unbelievable to me, but he has “star” written all over him in my opinion. He has very impressive burst, he runs hard and with good pad level, he has the speed to break off long chunks of yardage, he has good hands out of the backfield (35 receptions in his first year) and has helped legitimize UNC’s offense by establishing a running game that has been borderline non-existent for years. He and Rynner are going to be very fun to watch for the next two or three years assuming Rynner comes back for his senior year and Bernard stays through his junior year since he will be draft eligible as a redshirt sophomore after next season.

Ryan Houston: Houston is a huge power back for North Carolina, however this year he has slimmed down a bit. He is still listed at 6’2”, 245 pounds but he has definitely shaved off extra weight and you can see it. He’s in much better shape. I think he has draftable ability as a late round pick but is more likely to be a UDFA. He runs so hard and has such fantastic leg drive thanks to his great size and strength, but he’s not going to run a good 40 yard dash time in my opinion but he has ability. He’s great in short yardage and on the goal line, and because those are the only carries he ever seems to get that explains his less than impressive ypc average. I’m rooting for him, but we’ll see what happens after the season.

Josh Oglesby: I think Oglesby has ability. It would be in the 7th round or as an undrafted free agent but I think he has some talent. He’s not going to be a feature back in the NFL, but I think he can make a team as UDFA and stick as a special teamer. He is a physical back that could be used in short yardage situations and could help soften up defenses with a few touches, plus I don’t think he has bad hands out of the backfield. He has been productive when he gets touches and provides a more powerful back as a complement to Wilson’s game-breaking speed. He’s not likely to get drafted at all, much less high, but he’s worth at least paying attention to in my opinion.

Jarrett Boykin: Boykin is a guy I have been high on for a long time and he was actually involved in my first set of posts when I started my blog over a year ago in June of 2010. Boykin is a senior wide receiver for Virginia Tech that has potential as a solid #2 in the NFL thanks to his combination of size, quality athletic ability and very big and reliable hands. He’s not a burner and he’s not an athletic freak, but he’s been the cream of the Virginia Tech wide receiver crop for years and is the top receiver in VT history both in receptions and yards (though Danny Coale is a close second in both categories). He’s got NFL potential but is probably a fourth round pick at this point. He had a big day against North Carolina with 10 catches for 106 yards. He seems to have one or two drops on catchable passes a game despite his very reliable hands, so it makes me wonder if his hands aren’t quite great or if he just lacks concentration on a few plays per game. Either way he is more than draftable and I think he has a great shot at a long NFL career because of his team-first attitude, quality work ethic and reliable hands.

Danny Coale: Danny Coale is an undersized Virginia Tech receiver who, despite less than ideal speed, always manages to catch deep passes to the surprise of opposing defenses. He’s got great hands, he’s very tough, he makes catches in traffic, and he has great quickness. He’s more quick than fast which helps him create separation, but he’s smart, will go over the middle and make catches when you need them just like Boykin will. He won’t go as high as Boykin because of his lack of size, but he has made some fantastic catches at Virginia Tech and much like Dane Sanzenbacher of Ohio State (now with the Chicago Bears and getting some playing time…) he might get drafted late or not at all, but he will stick on a NFL roster. I guarantee it.

Dwight Jones: Dwight Jones has NFL size and pretty good speed but he leaves something to be desired as a receiver. He has pretty good hands but he body catches more than I would like to see and he doesn’t run very good routes consistently. He has NFL ability, but I have a 3rd round grade on him right now. He definitely has upside and he has been very productive for North Carolina especially this season with 68 receptions, 1,018 yards and 8 touchdowns. He will definitely get drafted, but I don’t think he is anything beyond a solid/quality #2 in the NFL. He’s definitely not a #1, and I don’t think he will be the gamebreaker he is at times for UNC even with a #1 caliber receiver opposite him.

Erik Highsmith: Highsmith is a 6’3”, 190 pound junior wide receiver on North Carolina. He has some upside due to his size and reliable hands, but he is more of a possession type of receiver. He doesn’t threaten much vertically but he’s reliable when he can create separation and get the ball thrown his way. He has had a career high 41 receptions, 608 yards and 4 touchdowns so far this year. He will likely be the #1 or #2 receiver next year with Jones graduating and while I don’t have anything beyond a 5th round grade on him at this point I do think he has draftable talent. I could see him being a nice #4 receiver in the NFL, one of those guys you can bring out on the field on 3rd down or in the red zone that you know will catch it if you throw it his way and that can find a hole in a zone for a first down conversion. He won’t make the streaking touchdown necessarily (though he did have a huge gain to set up a late UNC touchdown as they attempted a late comeback) but he will be in the NFL.

Marcus Davis: Davis is a developing receiver on Virginia Tech. Not a lot of people realize this but Logan Thomas is losing two senior wide receivers to graduation after this season.  Davis has emerged as a legitimate #3 target at wide receiver for Virginia Tech (though he has almost identical numbers to D.J. Coles, another quality junior receiver) and has almost matched his career totals from his previous two seasons in just this one year as a junior. This year he has 20 receptions (had 24 in first two years), 330 receiving yards (had 364 yards in first two years) and four touchdowns (had three in first two years). He’s 6’4”, 228 pounds and the first time I saw him play I thought he was a tight end because while he was very big he was also moving incredibly fast. If he is a legitimate 6’3”, 225+ pounds then I think he could have a future at that position, but he probably wants to stick at receiver. While he has played a key role for Virginia Tech this year and I like his hands and his size I think he is going to match his career production again in one season as a senior next year. Logan Thomas will be in his second full season as a starter as a junior and if he continues to develop he could be a Heisman candidate next season much like Cam Newton was as a junior at Auburn last year. Davis will be one of his top two receivers along with D.J. Coles and they should help keep the passing game from dropping off. If VT can replace David Wilson at RB, should he actually declare, then their offense could be very dangerous next year. Davis has a lot to do with that, so look out for him.

Dyrell Roberts, WR, Virginia Tech: Dyrell Roberts only caught three passes on the season but it was brought to my attention by a reader’s comment that Roberts broke his arm early in the season and has the option of choosing a redshirt (since he never redshirted) or a medical redshirt. It’s unfortunate for him because it was the second season in a row he sustained a season ending injury, but it sounds like he will be back next season. He was widely considered VT’s best and most explosive receiver until last season, though I always maintained that Boykin was the best. He is listed at 6’1″, 196 pounds and a listed 40 yard dash time of 4.53. I’d be surprised if he didn’t test faster than that as I believe he has the speed to test defenses vertically, but his hands have always been a huge question mark for him. It will be interesting to see what he does next year, and I for one am hoping he can stay healthy. Thanks to Jim for bringing this to my attention!

D.J. Coles: Coles is another big, athletic receiver for VT. He’s a junior this year and at 6’3”, 224 pounds he has totaled 26 receptions, 331 yards and two touchdowns. That accounts for almost all of his career statistics, but that doesn’t mean he lacks ability. In fact, I think Coles is ready for a break-out receiver next year. I can’t decide whether he or Davis will emerge as Thomas’ #1 target next year, but I think they are both going to have break-out years. Coles’ will be more noticeable because he had such a miniscule impact last year with only three receptions. But he is ready for big things and I think he will be targeted early and often by Thomas next year because of his quality size, very reliable hands and his knack for making the great catch. He adjusts very well to the ball in the air as well and tracks it well off of the quarterback’s hand. He’s going to blow up next year, so watch out for him.

Travis Bond: Bond is the junior right guard on North Carolina and he impressed me a lot in this game. He’s 6’7”, 340 pounds so he absolutely has NFL size and he helped get a consistent push against VT’s interior defensive line. He’s much bigger than all of their defensive linemen and he helped generate a consistent push in the running game, especially when Bernard was still in the game. Even after that they generated enough push to get Blue some yardage even though he’s the #3 back. I didn’t get to evaluate him much in pass protection, but I believe Bond has a NFL future. Just have to figure out what kind of one it is.

Jonathan Cooper: Cooper is another NFL offensive guard prospect on North Carolina. He plays left guard at 6’3”, 305 pounds and he also had an impressive push against VT’s defensive line. I didn’t see him in pass protection either, but he’s a quality junior draft prospect as well and warrants some attention. One noteworthy thing about UNC’s offensive line is that they will return every starter but their center next year and they will be a very experienced group with three seniors (LG, RG and RT) and a junior at LT. A sophomore will likely step in at center, but that’s an experienced group up front that should help clear a lot of running lanes for Bernard next year. I can’t wait to see that.

Quentin Coples: Coples is a very impressive prospect. I think he has a lot of versatility to play inside or outside at the next level, but I’m not sure which scheme he would fit best in yet. I think he would be effective as a 4-3 LE, but I don’t think he would generate a ton of sacks. Regardless, I think he has good edge speed considering his 6’6”, 290 pound frame, very strong and powerful hands, he displays consistently good hand usage to disengage from blocks, and overall has plenty of upside. I’m not sure he will be a top 5 pick like some are suggesting, but he definitely has top 15 pick written all over him at this point. Just haven’t quite seen the dominance that many were expecting.

Donte Paige-Moss: Paige-Moss has been tabbed by many as an overrated prospect on the Tar Heels and I tend to agree. He has fantastic athleticism and was considered a potential break-out player by some, but has not been starting for the Heels and has had a limited impact this year with only 21 tackles (11 solo), 4.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks and two pass deflections. He has a great frame for a pass rusher at 6’4”, 260 and has ideal athleticism for the RE position but he just hasn’t developed at all. He still has plenty of upside if the light comes on for him, but I’m not sure exactly what that requires. I think if he worked harder to get stronger and improve his hand usage he might progress next year as a senior, but he will have to earn his starting spot back or make a serious impact as a rotational guy as a senior. His stock is a mid-round guy that is a high risk/high reward player because he has a lot of upside but there’s very little from his junior year that suggests he will live up to his potential.

Kareem Martin: Martin is the guy who has replaced Paige-Moss at DE for the Tar Heels. He’s got plenty of upside due to his athletic ability as well as his impressive 6’6”, 260 pound size. He is only a sophomore but he has been very impressive with 34 total tackles (18 solo), 6.0 TFL, 4 sacks and 5 pass deflections. UNC does a pretty good job of getting their hands up into passing lanes and Martin is not an exception to that rule. I like Martin and think he has plenty of upside at DE for the Heels and should help replace Coples next year as I expect him to fill out that 6’6” frame and show up at 270+ pounds next season. Martin screams LE due to his size, and if Paige-Moss can get his act together UNC could have the feared pass rush from their DE’s that everyone expected them to have this season. Keep an eye on Martin, he has a lot of potential.

Sylvester Williams: Williams is a guy that stuck out to me from the second VT snapped the ball on their first drive. Williams has great size at 6’3”, 320 pounds and definitely has a lot of ability for such a large man. He’s only a junior but he has 47 total tackles (18 solo), 6.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF and two pass deflections. I think he is going to be a legitimate 2nd or 3rd round prospect next year, and I am excited to watch him as a senior on a defensive line that has plenty of talent.

Tydreke Powell: Powell is a 6’3”, 310 pound senior defensive tackle. He’s a very strong, powerful defensive tackle that is hard to move in the trenches. He’s got 43 total tackles (18 solo), 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF and 2 pass break-ups. He’s not a dynamic pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination, but I think he has a legit NFL future as a 3rd or 4th round pick because he won’t threaten much in the pass game but he is an effective run defender. He can help his stock in a post-season game and I look forward to potentially interviewing him at the East-West Shrine Game or perhaps more likely in the Senior Bowl.

Zach Brown: Brown is a freak athlete that is extremely fast. He is a senior that has decent size for a linebacker at 6’2”, 230 pounds but he definitely needs to get bigger and stronger to hold up in the NFL in my opinion. He looks skinny at times but he has plenty of athletic ability and raw speed. He’s extremely fast and that has helped him accumulate 81 total tackles, 10.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 INT’s, 3 FF’s and four pass deflections. He is a very effective blitzer because of his speed, but without more strength and better hand usage to shed he won’t be as effective once he is engaged as a pass rusher or as a run defender. He has ideal athleticism for pass coverage though, and could make himself a lot of money with a great post-season game performance in a bowl game and in the Senior Bowl. One problem I have with Brown is his problems wrapping up. He has missed a number of tackles simply because he didn’t wrap up the ball carrier and he likes to go for the big hit, but he isn’t a fundamentally sound tackler. That will hurt him in the evaluation process, but he’s so athletic that a lot of teams will probably overlook it.

Kevin Reddick: Reddick is another one of North Carolina’s talented linebackers. He is only a junior but he is 6’3”, 240 pounds and has had a productive season at middle linebacker. He has 62 total tackles (35 solo), 6.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks and 3 pass break-ups. He isn’t the freak athlete that Brown is, but he has legitimate NFL ability and is probably the best tackler on the team. He is a very reliable tackler and that is one of my favorite things about him. The dichotomy between Reddick and Brown in that aspect is very noticeable. I look forward to watching Reddick next year as a senior.

Charles Brown: Brown is an undersized corner at only 5’10”, 205 pounds but I would be surprised if he didn’t officially measure in at 5’9”. He’s solid in zone coverage, but he gets burned deep and struggles to locate the ball on deep throws while it is in the air. He can be handsy in coverage, and while he is a solid tackler I’m just not sold on him being a legitimate NFL corner. He’s a 5th round pick right now in my mind, and I just don’t think he has a lot of upside.

Jayron Hosley: Hosley has a lot of upside but like a number of corners to come out of VT he has tons of ability but isn’t always consistent. He can make some amazing plays, but can also give up big ones at times. He’s got great athleticism and breaks on passes very well, recovers well due to his great speed when beat and has fantastic ball skills, but he doesn’t tackle very well. He has 8 pass deflections and three interceptions this year as well as one forced fumble despite only being 5’10”, 171 pounds (though I would be surprised if he was not also 5’9”). He doesn’t have NFL size necessarily, but he definitely makes up for it with his athletic ability and ball skills.

J.R. Collins: Collins is only a sophomore but he has tons of upside. He is 6’2”, 240 pounds and like a lot of VT defensive ends he is undersized but very, very athletic. Hopefully he will show up at 250+ pounds for his junior season next year which would help him a lot versus the run (though he was getting snaps inside at defensive tackle this year due to injuries which was baffling considering his size) but it would also make it easier for him to shed blocks and rush the passer. Right now he relies on his athleticism, but as he develops he should be able to use his strength to get to the passer more often. He has 8.0 TFL’s and 6 sacks this year, so expect an even better year next season from Collins. He is definitely one to watch.

Derrick Hopkins: Hopkins is a guy that I really like. Like Collins he is also a sophomore, but he has legitimate NFL size at 6’0”, 301 pounds and surprising athleticism. He impressed me in this game and has had a pretty good year with 43 total tackles (19 solo), 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks and one forced fumble. I think he has legitimate NFL upside and I’m excited to watch him develop year to year along with Collins.

Antone Exum: Exum is yet another talented sophomore on Virginia Tech. He has TONS of upside at safety in my opinion at 6’0”, 220 pounds but he has great athletic ability and he has been the definition of a playmaker so far this season. He has 65 tackles (30 solo), 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 interception, two forced fumbles and a staggering 10 pass break-ups. He played very well against North Carolina and I think he has tons of upside. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops, but I am very high on him right now.

As you can see both of these teams have a lot of young, developing talent on their rosters. I think both teams will be good next year, though it will be interesting to see how good. Virginia Tech will be losing a lot of talent at wide receiver but they are returning two more seniors at the position. They may very well lose David Wilson to the NFL which would mean a new running back and two new starters at receiver for Logan Thomas to work with. It’s certainly possible that after his junior year Thomas will declare, but it will be particularly interesting to see he adjusts to a significant personnel change in his supporting cast. On defense VT will be very talented as they aren’t losing much talent at all unless Jayron Hosley leaves. They have a ton of young talent on the roster so next year their defense should be very scary, especially in the front seven and along the defensive line.

For UNC they have a very nice core of young talent on offense. They will be returning 8 or 9 starters on offense including potential studs at QB and RB in Bryn Rynner and Giovani Bernard. Watching those two for the next two years will be very special, so I am excited to see that. As has become customary UNC’s defense is extremely fast and athletic, and they will return 7 starters I believe. They have a lot of young talent in the front 7 and some up and coming talent in the secondary. Their strength is usually in the front 7 though, so it should be a strength again next year. I’m looking forward to seeing how they play next year, but I think that with the right coaching hire UNC could take a big step in the right direction next year.

Thanks for reading, I know it was a very long post. Hope you enjoyed it!

–Tom

1- Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina
Analysis: Brown has an impressive combination of size and speed. He has a listed sub 4.55 40 yard dash time and while he is only 6’2″, 225 pounds he can really fly around the field. He has a lot of potential and should help replace Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant at linebacker. As a junior Brown produced 72 total tackles (47 solo), 1.5 TFL and had 3 INT’s with an impressive 113 return yards after those interceptions. I expect Brown to step up and continue the strong defensive tradition that has developed recently at UNC.
2- Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska
Analysis: David plays MLB for Nebraska from what I remember but at his size he will probably have to move to WLB in the NFL, though if he packed on some weight to get to 230+ he might have a shot at playing the Mike. Regardless, he might not have great size at 6’1″, 220 pounds but he is an absolute tackling machine. He ended last season with a remarkable 152 tackles (85 solo), 12.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks and 8 pass deflections. He is going to get knocked for his size but he can flat out play, and that’s why I have him ranked higher than a lot of other people.
3- Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
Analysis: Upshaw has a lot of potential and he is returning for his senior year which will be a huge lift for Alabama. He was productive last year as a junior and was arguably Alabama’s top pass rusher. At 6’2″, 265 pounds he is very well built and was able to amass 52 total tackles (32 solo), 14.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks, 4 FF’s and 2 pass deflections. He has a lot of potential and flashed some impressive hand usage last year if I recall correctly. I am anxious to evaluate him further, but I was always impressed with him when I saw him last season.
4- Travis Lews, OLB, Oklahoma

Analysis: Lewis has been a potential NFL draft pick since he was a redshirt sophomore so now that he is a senior he will finally be in the draft. He has impressive athleticism and has a good reputation in coverage, but I have never been that impressed with him when I have watched him periodically. I am withholding judgement until I see more of him however. Last year he produced 109 total tackles (64 solo), 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 3 INT’s and 5 pass deflections. I think if he replicates his junior season and demonstrates his ability in coverage to me and other talent evaluators he could be a top 50 pick in the draft.
5- Brandon Lindsey, OLB, Pittsburgh
Analysis: Lindsey plays DE for Pittsburgh but I am not sure whether he will be a 4-3 DE or a 3-4 OLB at this point or not. At 6’2″, 250 he might be forced to transition to OLB, but if he gained weight he might be able to stick as a 4-3 DE. We will have to wait and see on that front, a lot of that will have to do with how he plays and develops this year. As a junior who stepped up to replace Romeus in the lineup opposite Jabaal Sheard Lindsey produced 51 total tackles (32 solo), 18.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 3 FF’s and one pass deflection. He has a lot of pass rushing upside and was quite disruptive opposite Sheard last year, so it will be interesting to see if he can maintain his effectiveness now that Sheard has moved on to the NFL.
6- Bruce Irvin, OLB, West Virginia
Analysis: Irvin had a very big year as a pass rusher last year but was fairly one dimensional as he did not have a single tackle for loss that was not a sack, meaning he was not much of a factor playing the run. That’s not entirely surprising considering he was playing at a listed height and weight of 6’3″, 235 pounds. However, he was dynamic when rushing the passer as he amassed 21 total tackles (18 solo), 14.0 TFL, 14.0 sacks, 2 FF’s and 1 pass deflection. It will be interesting to see if he can reproduce that effectiveness as a pass rusher but even more interesting to see if he can be more effective versus the run.
7- Sean Spence, OLB, Miami
Analysis: Spence might be undersized for the position (about 6’0″, 220 pounds) but he is an impressive athlete and he is a tackling machine much like Lavonte David for Nebraska. Spence produced 111 total tackles (59 solo), a whopping 17.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FF’s and 6 pass deflections. I don’t think he will be able to stick at MLB in the NFL necessarily, but he could play WLB effectively based off of what I have seen from him last year. He plays the run very well despite his size as evidenced by over 14 tackles in the backfield versus the run. He avoids blocks well but the true test of his potential will be how well he sheds blocks despite his relatively small stature.
8- Nigel Bradham, OLB, Florida State
Analysis: Bradham is on my list of potential break-out players in a previous post, and I think he has a good chance to do it. He stands at 6’2″, 241 pounds and produced 97 total tackles (53 solo), 5.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, 5 pass break-ups and 1 kick/punt blocked as a junior last season. It will be interesting to see how well he plays the run and drops into pass defense, as I have not seen him play very much yet.
9- Nico Johnson, OLB, Alabama
Analysis: Nico Johnson is a junior who may emerge as the starter opposite Upshaw at OLB. He has a lot of potential at 6’3″, 238 pounds and in a rotation last season he managed 33 total tackles (22 solo), 3.5 TFL, 1 INT and 1 pass deflection. With Upshaw as a mentor he could very well develop into a dynamic pass rusher, though I have not seen him play much so I can’t elaborate on his edge speed or get-off from the stand-up linebacker position. It will be interesting to see what his role is this year, and if he forms a formidable duo with Upshaw for Alabama.
10- Emmanuel Acho, OLB, Texas
Analysis: Acho returns to a Texas unit with some emerging talent up front and that should give him the opportunity to make plays at linebacker. Last year as a junior he was productive and displayed a lot of talent when he finished with 81 total tackles (47 solo), 10.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT (returned for TD), 1 FF, 2 pass deflections. I am excited to see how he develops and progresses as a senior, but I have high hopes for him.

Thanks for reading my pre-season outside linebacker rankings! Hopefully you enjoyed them. Feel free to comment on them as you see fit. I will have my inside linebacker, cornerback and safety rankings up soon.

–Tom