Notre Dame senior Manti Te’O is one of the nation’s best linebackers. Where does he rank?
The following is NFL Draft Update’s first-released positional prospect rankings for the 2012 college season and subsequent 2013 NFL Draft. Bear in mind that this is the initial installment of positional rankings that will be frequently updated throughout the college season and as more film study evaluations are made. This is but our first jumping point, so here we go:
1. Matt Barkley, USC (6’2″ 230 lbs.) – Sr
2. Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech (6’6″ 262 lbs.) – *Jr
3. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas (6’3″ 220 lbs.) – Sr
4. Tyler Bray, Tennessee (6’6″ 213 lbs.) – *Jr
5. Landry Jones, Oklahoma (6’4″ 229 lbs.) – *Jr
Notes: Tyler Bray is capable of challenging for the third spot on the list, but with a full year ahead, he needs to display consistency and few (if any) limitations as a passer. In my rankings, it’d be difficult for Matt Barkley to be dethroned from the top spot. However, I’m open to allowing Logan Thomas the opportunity to prove his athleticism and overall ability can elevate him into the top position. Landry Jones is the one top five prospect at the quarterback position I’ve significantly cooled on — he’s becoming more of an overrated commodity in my eyes, but the talent and production is undeniable. He gets the benefit of the doubt and cracks the initial top five. One potential sleeper to keep an eye on is Brad Sorenson (6’4″ 225 lbs.) of Southern Utah — the California native and BYU transfer is the top passer in all of the FCS (Division II). Certainly worth keeping an eye on.
1. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (6’0″ 232 lbs.) – *Jr
2. Knile Davis, Arkansas (6’0″ 226 lbs.) – *Jr
3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin (5’9″ 212 lbs.) – Sr
4. Ray Graham, Pittsburgh (5’9″ 195 lbs.) – Sr
5. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (6’0″ 192 lbs.) – *Jr
Notes: Unfortunately, the top two runners in the 2013 class are coming off significant season-ending injuries — Lattimore to a torn ACL in his left knee, Davis to a left ankle fracture. Each issue hurts the value of each player with regards to scouting evaluations down the road, but proving to get over notable injuries with a productive, quality season of play is the best a kid can do. Talent-wise, Lattimore and Davis are the unequivocal top-two, and barring re-injury, that should be cemented this year. Montee Ball’s transition to the NFL isn’t predicted to go as smoothly as some of his classmates, but unlike a handful of others, his fluidity and quickness are intriguing qualities. From 3-5, it’s wide open, but Ball gets the early lead — what more could he have done to earn it. Ray Graham is touted as a similar player to Eagles ‘back LeSean McCoy, and with good reason. He too is coming off a torn ACL (in his right knee), and will have plenty to prove on that front as well. Joseph Randle is a taller, but agile do-it-all running back with a second gear and the ability to play three downs — he should get more offensive responsibility early on in the post Weeden-to-Blackmon era in Stillwater. Big school ‘backs Spencer Ware (5’11″ 223 lbs.) of LSU and Eddie Lacy (6’2″ 220 lbs.) are a couple downhill bangers that are beyond capable of vaulting into the top five this season. Lots of talent between the two of them. Andre Ellington (5’10″ 190 lbs.) of Clemson and Texas A&M underclassman Christine Michael (5’11″ 213 lbs.) are a nice pair of talents without a ton of mileage worth remembering too.
1. Trey Millard, Oklahoma (6’1″ 249 lbs.) – *Jr
2. Zach Boren, Ohio State (6’1 246 lbs.) – Sr
3. Mike Zordich, Penn State (6’1 242 lbs.) – Sr
4. Braden Wilson, Kansas State (6’4″ 254 lbs.) – Sr
5. Zach Line, Southern Methodist (6’1″ 230 lbs.) – Sr
Notes: There’s a nice mix of both lead blocking and natural H-backs with versatility this year at fullback. Trey Millard is an athletic, all around player capable of blocking, catching, and running with quickness. The Junior is the standalone top fullback in this class should he declare early. Big Ten fullbacks Zach Boren and Mike Zordich are a pair of true lead blockers who will almost exclusively help teams in that regard, as neither are a threat to run, themselves. Braden Wilson is a throwback type with proven lead blocking skills and excellent size. Zach Line is the opposite, as he’s undersized and would benefit from bulking up a touch. However, he’s a quality short-yard runner with agility and wiggle — potential west coast offense fullback. Devon Ramsay (6’2″ 250 lbs.) of UNC is coming off a torn ACL & MCL in the 2011 season opener and received a medical redshirt + was suspended in 2010 following an eligibility investigation by the NCAA/UNC. With all of that being said, he’s experienced and has the definite athleticism to be a contributor at the next level if his knee issue is in the past. Finally, former Florida Gators spread-option quarterback Trey Burton (6’2″ 230 lbs.) is a quality runner with some developing physicality; his speed for the position could create some matchup problems at the next level, and a gadget-play versatility adds a shade of intrigue.
1. Robert Woods, USC (6’1″ 190 lbs.) – *Jr
2. Keenan Allen, California (6’3″ 206 lbs.) – *Jr
3. Justin Hunter, Tennessee (6’4″ 205 lbs.) – *Jr
4. Terrance Williams, Baylor (6’3″ 205 lbs.) – Sr
5. Russell Shepard, LSU (6’1″ 185 lbs.) – Sr
Notes: A nice crop of receivers this year coming in a variety of sizes and roles, but towards the top, we see a lot of size. Robert Woods is my initial top pass catcher — a versatile, line-up-anywhere ‘move’ receiver with big playmaking ability. Keenan Allen is a bigger body with body control and length. He and Robert Woods, and third ranked Justin Hunter, a fellow big bodied red zone threat, will all vie for the top spot in my rankings early on. Hunter is coming off a torn ACL this past season and managed an impressive 17 receptions, 317 yards, and two touchdowns in only three appearances last season. Terrance Williams could certainly make it two Baylor receivers going round one in as many years. Unlike Kendall Wright, Williams’ game is predicated more on size and reliable hands than speed and run-after-catch ability. LSU’s Russell Shepard, a former quarterback, is capable of having a Rueben Randle-esque rise, and with increased responsibility, and a slowly developing receiver skill-set, he’s a player who can most certainly push the first round following a productive season. Another name who would immediately vault into the top three of my receiver rankings — should he declare eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft — is Oklahoma’s Kenny Stills (6’1″ 189 lbs.). Stills is a true Junior with electric talent, ideal experience, and NFL bloodlines; he’s one of my favorites if/when he becomes draft eligible, and I suspect he’ll crack the 1,000 yard receiving mark this year despite playing in a spread offense with multiple targets making that a little tougher. Tavon Austin (5’9″ 176 lbs.) of West Virginia and Tennessee underclassman Da’Rick Rogers (6’3″ 208 lbs.) are another pair of big impact receivers with potential.
1. Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame (6’6″ 251 lbs.) – *Jr
2. Joseph Fauria, UCLA (6’7″ 258 lbs.) – Sr
3. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State (6’5″ 245 lbs.) – Sr
4. Zach Ertz, Stanford (6’6″ 249 lbs.) – *Jr
5. Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn (6’5″ 250 lbs.) – Sr
Notes: Yet another year without an ‘elite’ prospect at the position, but another handful of serviceable players with a few potential starters sprinkled in. Underclassman Tyler Eifert is the top talent available, with a wide catching radius, plus a size/speed blend the fits the mold of new-age NFL tight ends. Joseph Fauria, a Notre Dame transfer and nephew of former NFL tight end Christian Fauria, is a complete player — he features overall ideal size, physicality in blocking as an on-the-line ‘Y’, and good hands with arm length as a receiver. Stoneburner is entering his first full season as the stand alone starter and has the potential to be a more formidable pure pass catcher than Fauria; somewhat in the mold of former teammate Jake Ballard. Now, Zach Ertz is not Coby Fleener, but he has still produced a fair amount despite not being a starter. Entering this season as the team’s primary tight end, even without Andrew Luck, his production should increase notably. Auburn’s Philip Lutzenkirchen is not a specimen, but a gritty, reliable player who works well in the redzone. Following the top 5, there’s a mix of pure ‘Y’ blocking tight ends in Alabama’s Michael Williams (6’6″ 269 lbs.) + Michigan State’s Dion Sims (6’5″ 276 lbs.) and a couple H-back type underclassmen in Florida’s Jordan Reed (6’3″ 239 lbs.) and Gavin Escobar (6’5″ 245 lbs.) of San Diego State.
1. Chris Faulk, LSU (6’6″ 325 lbs.) – *Jr
2. D.J. Fluker, Alabama (6’6″ 335 lbs.) – *Jr
3. Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (6’5″ 305 lbs.) – *Jr
4. Taylor Lewan, Michigan (6’7″ 302 lbs.) – *Jr
5. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (6’6″ 320 lbs.) – Sr
Notes: No Joe Thomas, Jake Long, or Matt Kalil types heading into the college season who we can plug into the top of our mocks at left tackle. Someone will have to emerge, but thankfully, there are a number of players capable of doing so. Chris Faulk is still developing his pass blocking technique, but he’s looked impressive and he’s definitely a strong run blocker. D.J. Fluker is primarily a right tackle, which unfortunately hinders his value at the top end of the draft, but a good one-he is. Mammoth size out of high school, Fluker’s physically well put together and particularly handles bull rushing ends with ease. Jake Matthews, son of Hall of Fame center Bruce Matthews, is a projection left tackle with quick feet and drive blocking capabilities. The big man from UM Taylor Lewan is yet another potential riser if he’s able to take the next step — intriguing size and overall ability. Coming from O-line U, Ricky Wagner has a nice distinction to carry with him, but despite his pedigree and production since becoming a starter, he needs to clean up footwork and attempt to better keep his shoulders square against rushers. Luke Joeckel (6’6″ 310 lbs.), a Junior from Texas A&M and Virginia’s Senior tackle Oday Aboushi (6’6″ 310 lbs.) are a few others primed for big seasons. I’d also feel remiss if I did not mention Baylor’s Cyril Richardson (6’4″ 328 lbs.); a Junior with lots of upside. Last but not least, love him or hate him, Seantrel Henderson (6’8″ 345 lbs.) is an athletic specimen with an untraceable ceiling. Big men of his size are simply not supposed to move like he does. If the non-football issues cease once and for all and he continues to flash the ability he’s occasionally displayed since being one of the most touted high-school offensive linemen, possibly ever, he will vie for early consideration if he declares eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Interior Offensive Linemen
1. Barrett Jones, Alabama (6’5″ 311 lbs.) – Sr
2. Khaled Holmes, USC (6’4″ 305 lbs.) – Sr
3. Travis Frederick, Wisconsin (6’4″ 330 lbs.) – *Jr
4. Chance Warmack, Alabama (6’3″ 320 lbs.) – Sr
5. Jonathan Cooper, UNC (6’3″ 310 lbs.) – Sr
Notes: Two centers rank atop the interior offensive linemen rankings in Jones and Holmes. That being said, Barrett Jones is an extremely versatile player who’s moving to the middle to help his team this season, but started nearly all last season at left tackle, and guard in the past — both of which he fortified excellently. Holmes represents a new wave of highly athletic centers, while underclassman Travis Frederick has a nice blend of size and polish; few physical limitations, if any. Chance Warmack of Alabama is a top shelf run blocker who enters his third season starting at left guard on a formidable Tide O-line. Like Warmack, UNC’s Jonathan Cooper has multiple years of starting at guard. His polish and physicality will intrigue man-blocking teams. Kentucky guard Larry Warford (6’3″ 336 lbs.) is another mauler who’s strong at the point of attack, and certainly another name to monitor this season in the SEC.
1. Barkevious Mingo, LSU (6’5″ 250 lbs.) – *Jr
2. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (6’5″ 250 lbs.) – *Jr
3. Sam Montgomery, LSU (6’4″ 248 lbs.) – *Jr
4. Devin Taylor, South Carolina (6’7″ 267 lbs.) – Sr
5. Bjoern Werner, Florida State (6’3″ 276 lbs.) – *Jr
6. William Gholston, Michigan State (6’7″ 275 lbs.) – *Jr – *Honorable Mention
Notes: The 2013 NFL Draft class at defensive end can be very, very stocked, but it may require the help of declared underclassmen. Regardless, a pair of LSU book-end rushers, Mingo — a relentless motored speed rusher with great hand usage — and Montgomery — a well built, overall talent who’s effectively gotten over a 2010 season-ending knee injury will be tough to vacate from the top of most rankings. Jackson Jeffcoat, son of former Cowboys and Bills D-lineman, Jim Jeffcoat, is an athlete with size and movement off the snap; a true talent. His teammate Alex Okafor (6’4″ 260 lbs.) is another potential first round selection, possessing a ‘plus’ first step and the knack for being disruptive in the passing game. Another pair is FSU’s Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins (6’3″ 260 lbs.): Werner a raw German-born athlete with tremendous pursuit skills and strength, Jenkins a shear speed rusher who’s surprisingly more adept against the run than credited for. A trio of roughly 6’7″+ ends that must be monitored are Devin Taylor of South Carolina, a pure athlete who starred in basketball + track & field, with polish, William Gholston — cousin of former No. 6 overall pick in 2008 Vernon Gholston — displayed flashes of brilliance in ’10, and finally one of college football’s biggest “freak” athletic specimens, Estonian-born Margus Hunt (6’8″ 275 lbs.) of SMU — a star shot put & discuss thrower who is especially gifted at blocking kicks. if those aren’t enough names for you, seniors Michael Buchanan (6’5″ 240 lbs.) of Illinois, John Simon (6’2″ 260 lbs.) of Ohio State, and Wes Horton (6’5″ 260 lbs.) of USC round out a potentially deep group. Of course, former No. 1 overall high-school recruit Ronald Powell (6’4″ 248 lbs.) of Florida could make a move up with a big season.
1. Star Lotulelei, Utah (6’4″ 325 lbs.) – Sr
2. Kawann Short, Purdue (6’3″ 310 lbs.) – Sr
3. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State (6’4″ 317 lbs.) – *Jr
4. Jesse Williams, Alabama (6’4″ 320 lbs.) – Sr
5. Bennie Logan, LSU (6’3″ 287 lbs.) – *Jr
Notes: Starting at the top with Utah’s Star Lotulelei, the 2013 draft class has what appears to be a disruptive, brutishly strong, plug and play defensive tackle certainly capable of garnering top 15 consideration. The soon-to-be household name possesses the size of a natural space eating nose tackle, but the quickness and top shelf movement skills necessary to be a terror on any down. The second and third ranked defensive tackles are a pair of Big Ten kids; Short, a thickly built, squatty pocket pusher with the ability to penetrate, and Hankins, an athletic projection player with very real upside. Fourth is the next in line of the numerous quality, polished Crimson Tide defensive lineman, Jesse Williams — a potentially versatile 3-4 lineman or 4-3 nose (0-technique DT) with movement skills and knowledge of leverage use. Finally, Bennie Logan is a natural 1-gapper who has a knack for playing in the opposing offense’s backfield — he has plenty of untapped potential, and a frame with plenty of room to fill out. Another pair of notable talents are former top recruits Sharrif Floyd (6’3″ 305 lbs.) of Florida and Sheldon Richardson (6’4 295 lbs.) from Missouri could be the cherry on top of a talented positional group. Floyd, a Junior with bulk and power, Richardson, an athletic senior with a high ceiling who’s entering his first full season of starting.
1. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (6’2″ 240 lbs.) – *Jr
2. Sean Porter, Texas A&M (6’2″ 230 lbs.) – Sr
3. Gerald Hodges, Penn State (6’2″ 235 lbs.) – Sr
4. Jonathan Brown, Illinois (6’1″ 235 lbs.) – *Jr
5. Chase Thomas, Stanford (6’4″ 240 lbs.) – Sr
Notes: Jarvis Jones, a USC transfer, had a monstrous 2011 season between the hedges. Starting all 14 games, accumulating 13.5 sacks — including four against Florida, and becoming a first-team All American selection. He is the standalone top outside linebacker, and versatile enough to rush off the edge in a 3-4 base as well. Named co-defensive captain for the 2012 season. Moving on to Sean Porter, the attempted replacement for Von Miller at A&M, who did a great job, racking up 9.5 sacks + 17 tackles for loss last season and flashing great range; he is a natural run and hit linebacker. The next “Linebacker U” product is Gerald Hodges, and like his predecessors, he is an intelligent and versatile prospect; Hodges is the prototypical ‘big play’ backer who moves well in coverage; even played a bit of safety at Penn State. Few defenders were as productive as Jonathan Brown last season, as the Illini product compiled 108 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, four pass breakups, and an interception in 2011; Brown is in on nearly every play and locates the football with ease. Although Chase Brown isn’t the sideline-to-sideline presence those ranked ahead of him are, he is a heady player with bulk, who’s capable of taking on bigger NFL-sized lineman in run defense. The intrigue at outside linebacker doesn’t end there, as former highly touted recruit from Florida Jelani Jenkins (6’1″ 230 lbs.) is an athlete who flies around the field smoothly. Alonzo Highsmith (6’1″ 230 lbs.) from Arkansas, the son of former NFL running back Alonzo Sr., is a former JUCO transfer who flashed in his first year in the FBS (Division I) and I suspect he will take the next step this season. We’ll cap the position with former safety Kenny Tate (6’4″ 220 lbs.) of Maryland. Some feel he is a possible tweener without a true position at the next level, but despite his positional movement from free safety, to a “star” (hybrid linebacker/safety role), to full time SAM linebacker this season, he is a talent who can be an Akeem Ayers-type player, in my estimation. He is coming off a season-ending knee injury and that will be something to keep an eye on during his play this year.
1. Manti Te’O, Notre Dame (6’2″ 255 lbs.) – Sr
2. C.J. Mosley, Alabama (6’2″ 232 lbs.) – *Jr
3. Shayne Skov, Stanford (6’3″ 251 lbs.) – Sr
4. Kevin Reddick, UNC (6’3″ 240 lbs.) – Sr
5. Chris Borland, Wisconsin (5’11″ 250 lbs.) – *Jr
Notes: There’s a fairly large amount of hype surrounding top inside linebacker prospect Manti Te’O this season, as he’d have garnered definite first round consideration had he entered the 2012 draft. Te’O will emerge as one of the draft’s safest selection; size + speed, experience, fantastic production, scheme versatility, and physical skills. The total package, as he is a capable, yet also developing, pass rusher. Mosley was played in a linebacker rotation and had some minor injury issues, but emerged as one of the better cover ‘backers in the NCAA; a speedy defender with instincts and no physical limitations. In contrast, the third ranked middle man is Shayne Skov — a thickly built, intelligent defender with a top shelf football IQ. Skov possesses versatility, leadership qualities, and rather notable upside. However, Skov is coming off a season-ending knee injury early last year and how he responds in 2012 will be telling for his draft stock. UNC’s Kevin Reddick is a highly athletic defender with instincts and pursuit skills. Although he hasn’t been overly productive, the talent and increased responsibility moving into 2012 mean expectations will be high. Wisconsin underclassman Chris Borland is undersized in the height department as he stands at sub-6’0″, but the productive downhill thumper uses it to his advantage, delivering hits with pop and winning most leverage battles against bigger blockers. Would he declare eligible a year from now? Certainly it’s possible, but like his fellow potential classmates, living up to increased expectations is the first step in that process. Another pair of inside linebackers with versatility worth noting are big schoolers Jonathan Bostic (6’1″ 243 lbs.) of Florida and Nico Johnson (6’3″ 245 lbs.) of Alabama — both of which are former highly touted recruits with multi-linebacker spot versatility. Bostic is a thickly built sideline-to-sideline defender with excellent speed; potential 4-3 WILL, as well. Johnson is a heavier in-the-box defender who plays the run particularly well but is relatively untested in coverage.
1. David Amerson, North Carolina State (6’3″ 194 lbs.) – *Jr
2. Xavier Rhodes, Florida State (6’1″ 215 lbs.) – *Jr
3. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (5’9″ 176 lbs.) – *Jr
4. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (6’2″ 185 lbs.) – Sr
5. DeMarcus Milliner, Alabama (6’0″ 198 lbs.) – *Jr
6. Desmond Trufant, Washington (6’0″ 185 lbs.) – Sr – *Honorable Mention
Notes: The talent and depth of the 2013 NFL Draft’s cornerback class is largely dependent on underclassmen leaving school early, as my top trio of players at the position are Juniors. Starting with Amerson, he is a tremendous size/speed prospect with a bit of a rare skill set. He is highly aggressive when the ball is in flight and exhibits NFL caliber ball skills — intercepting 13 passes last season as a true Sophomore. He is now widely regarded by offensive coordinators throughout the nation, so a dip in production may be expected, but after not intercepting a pass while starting as a Freshman, evaluators such as myself will be keeping tabs on his overall development this season. Speaking of size/speed, meet Xavier Rhodes (if you haven’t already). Rhodes is your prototypical Cover-2 boundary corner, but possesses man-coverage capabilities due to his physicality and long speed. If/when he becomes eligible, Rhodes will be coveted as a matchup outside corner to counter the constantly growing receivers in the NFL today. Unlike the two ranked ahead of him, Tyrann Mathieu is a mere 5’8″/5’9″ defender with limited ability to play on the boundary in the NFL; that being said, he has unmatched instincts for the position and that may help counter some theories that he will struggle against other, more physically imposing NFL receivers. A dynamic playmaker and 2011 Heisman finalist. Small in stature, but scrappy and tenacious in literally every facet of the game, he will endear certain teams/coaches. Johnthan Banks is the top Senior, and with plenty of experience and production in the SEC, he is well regarded by most. He has issues in off-coverage, but he plays physical and can tackle/blitz nicely. Bama cornerback DeMarcus Milliner enters his first season as the primary boundary defender for the Tide in the post-Kirkpatrick/Menzie era in Tuscaloosa. A very highly touted high school recruit, Milliner was a rotational + nickel defender last year and produced rather well in a limited role. It’s a fair assumption that he will begin to take the next step this season and emerge as one of the 2013 class’ top available players — if he declares eligible. Senior Husky cornerback Desmond Trufant had an excellent Sophomore year, but dipped a little as a Junior. The little brother of Seattle Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant will need to reclaim his form of two seasons ago in order to be one of the more highly coveted pass defenders in his draft year. Seniors Johnny Adams (5’11″ 175 lbs.) of Michigan State and Jordan Poyer (6’0″ 190 lbs.) from Oregon State, as well as Florida State sleeper Greg Reid (5’9″ 186 lbs.) are just a small handful of other notables.
1. Eric Reid, LSU (6’2″ 208 lbs.) – *Jr
2. T.J. McDonald, USC (6’2″ 205 lbs.) – Sr
3. Robert Lester, Alabama (6’2″ 210 lbs.) – Sr
4. Ray Ray Armstrong, Miami FL (6’4″ 216 lbs.) – Sr
5. Bacarri Rambo, Georgia (6’0″ 218 lbs.) – Sr
Notes: Unlike the last couple seasons, the 2013 NFL Draft class will undoubtedly have a number of talented safeties. More-so if arguably the top available, Eric Reid, continues to flash brilliance and enter early. Reid was able to elevate his play against top competition last season and produce despite being a member of a depthy Tiger defensive backfield. Should his overall game continue to develop with more emphasis drawn upon him after Morris Claiborne’s ascendance to the NFL, he will surely draw first round consideration. Big school Seniors T.J. McDonald and Robert Lester are intelligent leaders on the back end of their defensive units. McDonald is a physically gifted player who can deliver strong pop to hits and perhaps be immediately plugged into either a free or strong safety spot from day one. Not much unlike Robert Lester, a tireless film room resident with excellent ball skills and the coveted label of being a true center field safety. Both McDonald and Lester are well coached defenders with plenty of experience, and coming off semi-disappointing seasons — that battle for the top senior safety distinction is almost exclusively between the two. Miami’s Ray Ray Armstrong pondered exiting college early last year, but opted for another year of development. Wise choice, as the gifted, but still unpolished safety has all the athletic ability you’d like out of a safety, including imposing size. His range and ability to cover make him a potentially high draft choice, but evaluators would like to see the consistency and improvement. Bacarri Rambo has toyed with the possibly entering the 2012 supplemental draft. Serving a four game suspension to begin the college season after a second failed drug test, Rambo is a dynamic playmaking safety who hauled in seven interceptions last year. Great awareness and ability to locate the football, and the speed + quickness in order to get to it. If he hits the ground running when returning from suspension, he may salvage his still potentially high draft stock. Oklahoma’s Junior safety Tony Jefferson (5’10″ 200 lbs.) is another top player who’s coming off an excellent Sophomore season and will surely vie for a high ranking in his own right sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the gifted athlete from Florida Matt Elam (5’10″ 206 lbs.) — a true Junior — is teetering on the verge of becoming one of the top defensive backs in college football this season; a fleet footed + rangy cover-defender who was the sunshine state’s top recruit coming out of high school.
1. K Dustin Hopkins, Florida State (6’2″ 190 lbs.) – Sr
2. K Caleb Sturgis, Florida (5’11″ 187 lbs.) – Sr
3. P Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech (6’2″ 215 lbs.) – Sr
4. K/P Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (6’1″ 190 lbs.) – Sr
5. P Jackson Rice, Oregon (6’3″ 225 lbs.) – Sr
Notes: In 2011, Dustin Hopkins and Caleb Sturgis finished as finalists for the Lou Groza award as the nation’s top kicker, behind winner and Houston Texans 2012 5th round pick Randy Bullock of Texas A&M. La Tech punter Ryan Allen was the 2011 Ray Guy award winner as the nation’s top punter, and looks to become only the second of his position to win the award twice — the only one to do it was Baylor’s Daniel Sepulveda in ’04 and ’06, a former 4th round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007. Oklahoma State’s Quinn Sharp is a dual special teamer with a reliable and accurate leg, while Oregon punter Jackson Rice frequently produces booming punts, but didn’t have enough attempts to really prove his worth statistically like some others at his position. One other name to be keen on is LSU’s Brad Wing (6’3″ 184 lbs.), possibly the nation’s best overall punter. Wing is the total package, as the left-footed Aussie is a mere redshirt-Sophomore, but has been credited with quietly being one of the Tigers’ biggest weapons throughout their undefeated regular season. He was a 2011 Ray Guy award semi-finalist and 2012 Ray Guy award favorite.
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