Tag Archives: Football

2014 NFL Draft to have record 30 prospects in attendance

A record 30 prospects have accepted an invitation to attend the 2014 NFL Draft live from Radio City Music Hall // COURTESY Marianne O'Leary

A record 30 prospects have accepted an invitation to attend the 2014 NFL Draft live from Radio City Music Hall // COURTESY Marianne O’Leary

The NFL Draft is one of the fastest annually growing entities in the sports world, let alone just within the NFL circle. With it comes inflation, and there is no shortage of it with regards to prospects making the trip to Radio City Music Hall. Long gone are the days of seeing only a small handful of prospects beginning round one in the backstage green room. The historic fleet of 30 players is spearheaded by polarizing passer Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, amongst many other intriguing prospects will join the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.

Four quarterbacks will attend, with Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo being the only non-“big 3” member of the class’ position to accept an invitation. Fresno State’s David Carr reportedly opted to experience draft day/weekend from home. The two most well-represented schools at the draft hail from the SEC, as Alabama and Texas A&M have three each in attendance. Additionally, the SEC also accounts for 11 attendees of the 30 – the most among any conference. Wide receiver boasts the most players in attendance with seven. There will be no running backs or interior offensive linemen at this year’s draft.

In alphabetical order, here are the 30 prospects who will be in attendance for the 2014 NFL Draft:

Odell Beckham, WR. LSU
Blake Bortles, QB. UCF
Teddy Bridgewater, QB. Louisville
Hasean Clinton-Dix, S. Alabama
Jadeveon Clowney, DE. South Carolina
Brandin Cooks, WR. Oregon State
Kony Ealy, DE. Missouri
Eric Ebron, TE. UNC
Mike Evans, WR. Texas A&M
Kyle Fuller, CB. Va Tech
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB. EIU
Justin Gilbert, CB. Oklahoma State
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT. Minnesota
Timmy Jernigan, DT. Florida State
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT. Alabam
Cody Latimer, WR. Indiana
Marqise Lee, WR. USC
Taylor Lewan, OT. Michigan
Khalil Mack, LB. Buffalo
Johnny Manziel, QB. Texas A&M
Jake Matthews, OT. Texas A&M
Jordan Matthews, WR. Vanderbilt
Morgan Moses, OT. Virginia
C.J. Mosley, LB. Alabama
Calvin Pryor, S. Lousiville
Greg Robinson, OT. Auburn
Bradley Roby, CB. Ohio State
Ryan Shazier, LB. Ohio State
Jason Verrett, CB. TCU
Sammy Watkins, WR. Clemson

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2014 NFL Combine Notes: Quarterback, Wide Receiver & Running Back

Things heated up at the 2014 NFL Combine on Sunday, as we witnessed an infusion of speed with the offensive playmakers. We saw a few of the “name” quarterbacks participate in throwing drills, while others opted to hold out until pro days. This year’s wide out class is as deep as it has ever been and coupled with a long list of running backs with very different skill-sets. Certainly an intriguing bunch to evaluate. here’s what caught my eye on day two of workouts in Indianapolis:

Quarterback

*Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater was in attendance, tallying a 30″ vertical + 9’5″ broad jump, but chose not to throw. Johnny Manziel also opted to wait for his pro day to showcase his throwing, but ran a 4.68 time in the 40-yard dash, 31.5″ vertical, and 9’5″ broad jump.

*Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas let it rip on Sunday. On film he exhibits an inability to control his arm with consistency, leading to erratic spells. In Indy, he was regularly throwing ropes to receivers in intermediate and longer range drills. He showcased well and surely will catch the eye of coaches who feel they can massage his most obvious creases. There obviously is no physical limitations, and he even clocked the best time of any quarterback with a 4.60. Without ruling out his future as a passer, it’s worth noting that he’s got the size + speed to entice some as a prospective tight end… a position he was highly touted at out of high school.

*Tajh Boyd of Clemson displayed pretty solid timing with his foreign receivers. Drops were quick and easy, release was compact. Made a couple nice throws downfield.

*Alabama’s A.J. McCarron is one of the more under-appreciated passers of this class, and his downfield throwing abilities don’t get the due credit, in my view. On Sunday, he made three very nice, very accurate deep throws for completions. McCarron was putting a little bit of loft under his short-intermediate throws and out-route simulation drills, but overall it was a positive showing.

*Highly touted UCF passer Blake Bortles threw and had a good day. Solid on deep passes. Perhaps most importantly, there was no evident loss of velocity, as some have been increasingly concerned about in this pre-draft run up. Short-intermediate range throws were released with pretty noticeable strength.

*Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t really stand out to me, but continued to display really good footwork. This carried over from his solid Senior Bowl performance, and I believe it translated into pretty good timing despite unfamiliarity with the receivers.

*Pittsburgh’s Tom Savage was arguably the best of the second group on Sunday and displayed a strong arm with good timing.

Running Back

*Nobody did more to earn the label of “workout warrior” out of the running back group than Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon. He marked the second-fastest 40-time among his position (4.41), the most bench press reps (32), second best vertical (40.5), second best broad jump (11’0″). Performed well in drills, looked fluid and quick when running routes. Had a really good day.

*Kent State’s Dri Archer was, by far, the fastest timed player of his positional group after posting a blazing 4.26 time in the 40-yard dash. He exhibited comfortable, off-body hands. Archer made me a believe that he can be utilized as both a running back and slot-receiver in order to get him touches in space. Could be a legitimate playmaker if placed in the right system.

*Blake Bortles running back at UCF was the talented Storm Johnson, who put together a very solid combine workout. The Miami (FL) transfer solidified the notion that he has good hands and can be a factor in the passing game, making a handful of quality off-body grabs. Loose, fluid movement for a well-sized ‘back. Likely to remain in my top 5 for the position.

*Washington’s Bishop Sankey made a bit of a statement. A primarily downhill, North-South runner who ran really well (4.49) and showed reliable hands in catching drills. Good hips, bent well, stayed loose.

*Alabama State’s Isaiah Crowell did himself good with a solid performance at the combine too. Was moving really nicely and intrigued with a couple quality catches off his frame. Timed speed was average at best, but the former 5-star recruit from the University of Georgia flashed enough talent to warrant a look.

*Lache Seastrunk of Baylor checked out physically. Very muscular, strong lower-body and it translated well – the ex-Oregon Duck had the best vertical (41.5) and broad (11’2″) jumps, putting his explosion on full display.

*Oregon x-factor and return specialist De’Anthony Thomas underwhelmed in his 40-time, clocking in at a 4.50, but looked as quick as you’d expect. Teams will have to find creative ways to get him in space, but he has the electricity to intrigue a team hungry for a potential playmaker and returner.

*Auburn’s Tre Mason wasn’t really a standout amongst his positional group, but didn’t perform poorly either. Solid in receiving drills, but could have maybe ran routes with a little more purpose. Aside from that, he competed and did himself no harm.

*Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde ran his first 40-yard dash and pulled up holding his left hamstring. He did not participate in any drills afterward as a precaution.

*For a bigger, bulkier ‘back like Toledo’s David Fluellen, he was able to sink his hips and change direction really nicely. Pleasantly surprised by his decent fluidity.

Wide Receiver

*First and foremost, the fastest timed receiver was Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, who clocked a 4.33. A fleet-footed burner with the ability to play in the slot or out wide. Looked explosive during drills.

*Clemson’s Sammy Watkins didn’t get me out of my seat with his workout, but he flashed the occasional “wow” moment during the day in drills. Great body control, really solid hands, and did everything at a high speed, while remaining efficient in his movement He may be disappointed with it, but his official 4.43 time was nothing to scoff at.

*Johnny Manziel’s most talented target Mike Evans was a standout among his section of wide receivers. Long athlete who displayed really good hands all throughout the day, plucking off his frame with regularity and comfort. Looked a little stiffer in and out of his breaks, but strides nicely downfield.

*Kelvin Benjamin looks like a specimen at 6’5″ 240 lbs. definitely passed the eye-test. Ran a 4.61, which is fine for a player of his stature, and demonstrated his ability to use his length when making catches. Had a bit of a propensity to drop the occasional pass this past season, but was pretty consistent in making catches during combine drills. Appeared to be a little less rigid than Mike Evans when changing direction or sticking his foot in the ground in/out breaks.

*Big, physical Rutgers pass catcher Brandon Coleman ran a really solid 4.51 time at 6’6″ 225 lbs. Made a few nice catches downfield and overall, I believe he helped himself. Physical makeup is very interesting.

*Disappointing 4.60 time for Penn State underclassman Allen Robinson, but he proved on film that he could get separation and win in 50-50 situations when he was in them. Still, his physical testing wasn’t anything more than average.

*LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr. exhibited impressive body control during the gauntlet drill and ran routes with authority. Timed speed of 4.43 was a good figure for him, as well.

*Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief was up and down in drills, but physically did well. Ran an impressive 4.40 and was a top performer in the vertical and broad jumps. Big frame was carried well.

*A surprise from Pittsburgh State (KS) John Brown blazed a 4.34 and looked very quick in and out of cuts during drills. Accelerated quickly and stayed loose all throughout the day. I’ll have to do a little more work.

*Alabama’s Kevin Norwood is a player I’ve been high on for some time now. He struggled to consistently complete drills without the occasional drop.

*Oklahoma slot-man Jalen Saunders was agile and electric, ran fast (4.44), and looked good enough in a variety of drills to indicate he could line up out wide on occasion too – which film also suggest, in my view.

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2013 NFL Draft top 5 player positional rankings (June 19)

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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:

 

Quarterbacks

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.

 

 

Running Backs

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.

 

 

Fullbacks

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.

 

 

Wide Receivers

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.

 

 

Tight Ends

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.

 

 

Offensive Tackles

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.

 

 

Defensive Ends

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.

 

 

Defensive Tackles

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.

 

 

Outside Linebackers

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.

 

 

Inside Linebackers

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.

 

 

Cornerbacks

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.

 

 

Safeties

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.

 

 

Kickers/Punters

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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-Dion Caputi


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