Ok, after much time and evaluation, it is time for an update. I think we have seen enough of the season play out for our friends in the collegiate ranks to be able to evaluate where they currently stand. I am going a little bit by what others that are more professional at evaluating talent (and hence get paid to do it) but I am also going to go mostly by what I have been able to see out of each player as well.
To those of you that may have read my previous post of Keeping up with the Collegiates in the preseason, you may remember that I highlighted just defense, particularly highlighting the 3-4 defensive end prospects and the defensive backfield. However, to this report I have added an offensive position, halfback. We will touch more on this later, but first, lets get to the real meat of this and focus on our needs. Last draft was particularly an offensive draft for us, so it would make sense that we go heavy on defense this next draft. Luckily it would seem that the cream of this year’s draft is going to be defensive players, particularly in the defensive backfield. Now, I do not have the ability/time to view EVERY single college game, but I am watching a lot of them. Hence there will be some guys here that I have not seen yet, so I will defer to other scouting reports given. I have ranked the players according to my own evaluation and what I have heard about them. If you see a number next to them then that is how far they have jumped up or dropped in the rankings since my preseason evaluation. If they are not a Senior, then I have noted what year they are. Now, let’s get to the breakdown.Defensive Ends
To be totally honest, I thought in preseason that this was going to be a big need for us. I still regard it as such, which is why I still include it here, but not as much as I had previous to the season's commencement. Jason Hatcher has been impressive so far and not having him on the field during his calf injury definitely shows what kind of impact he has, especially as a pass rusher. We can always use more defensive linemen though. Especially ones that can rush the passer or beat any one on ones they get. So here are my current rankings of the prospects I believe could play the 5-technique (3-4 DE).
1. Jared Crick - Nebraska
Height: 6' 6"
Weight: 285 lbs.
I believe this guy has cemented himself at the top of the 5-techniques for the 2012 draft. I didn't get the chance to watch EVERY game with him but probably the best one to watch was the game against Wisconsin. Wisconsin seemed to easily come away with the win there, however, Jared Crick was a problem for them. It wasn't until they started doubling him every single play that they were actually able to start moving the ball (and fairly easily after that I might add). He would have had a sack on one of the first plays, however Russell Wilson sidestepped him and he wiffed (although he did come unblocked on that play). I love the way that he is able to get off blocks and make tackles. Another great moment in the game this year against Wisconsin is when he busted through the middle and blocked an extra point attempt (although I would argue that the kicker had no business kicking it that low on a PAT). Why would he have cemented himself at the top of the list now? Well, considering that he was a disruptive force in that Wisconsin game, amongst others (although lacking in actual stats), he did it playing with a torn pectoral. He is undergoing surgery now and will most likely be ready in time for the combine and such. Could this be another player that will drop because of injury that we grab? This has been the theme in the second round the last two years, so stay tuned...
2. Quinton Coples - UNC
Height: 6' 6"
Weight: 285 lbs.
I was not overly impressed with his performance in one of the games that I saw (can't remember which game it was exactly but early in the season). However, one thing that I do find impressive is the way that they constantly moved him around on the line. When I am watching a UNC game I have to constantly try to locate Coples before every snap, since they move him around so much. They would move him to end on the right and left side as well as lining up at Tackle. That kind of versatility is exactly the kind of player that Rob Ryan would love to have. He has rare physical tools and will no doubt be a first round pick. He has the athleticism, size and ability to play end in any scheme. Even though his stats might not be eye-popping so far, he is still a handful on any play for the opponents offensive line.
3. (+1) Billy Winn - Boise State
Height: 6' 4"
Weight: 295 lbs.
Another player that tends to move around on the line. I was impressed with the way that he is able to play inside as well as outside. It now seems to be a common theme that on third down a team will run a 3-4 package or just place three down-linemen. He did fairly well in these situations as well. He isn't quite in the backfield as much as you would like but he seems to have good technique and I can't recall him getting blown off the line. He has nice pass rushing ability as well, just like Crick and Coples. Not quite on the same level though. Will make a great 5-technique in the NFL.
4. Devon Still - Penn State
I haven't seen any film on this guy yet, so I will defer to the analysis given by draftcountdown.com
Height: 6' 5"
Weight: 310 lbs.
There is little doubt that Penn State’s Devon Still is steadily rising up draft boards and he may even start getting some consideration at the top of the second day. So far this season the 6’5 and 310 pound Still has showcased the ability to both disrupt the run game and apply pressure to the quarterback. One aspect of Still's game that stands out is how he keeps his pad level low and manages to outleverage opposing offensive linemen. So far this season Still has at least one tackle for a loss in each game for the Nittany Lions, translating that talent into production. Last week in a defensive battle against Iowa, Still not only had 6 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss but also a big sack that kept the Hawkeyes at bay. At this rate Still is well on his way to solidifying his standing as one of the country's top defensive tackles prospects and a potential early round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
5. Derek Wolfe - Cincinnati
I couldn't find any video on him as he is currently flying under the radar. Here is the analysis by draftcountdown.com:
Height: 6' 5"
Weight: 300 lbs.
Though Cincinnati is not a high profile team nationally, Wolfe is a pro-quality pass rusher from the interior of the Bearcats defense and has been a real difference maker for the squad. Wolfe comes in at 6’5 and 300 pounds, with the versatility to play both a 4-3 undertackle position or a 3-4 defensive end position. Wolfe also shows a real knack for getting into the backfield and causing problems for opposing quarterbacks. The leverage Wolfe creates presents a big problem offensive linemen and he routinely gets under their pads and uses a variety of moves to get past them into the backfield. Wolfe has showcased these skills throughout the season so far, racking up four sacks from a position that usually isn’t built for producing eye-popping numbers. As an added bonus Wolfe also has 5.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles on the year.
6. Kendall Reyes – Connecticut (6' 4" - 295 lbs.)
He meets the ideal size requirements and already has 4 sacks this year operating on the interior of the line. In his career at Connecticut he has 6.5 sacks. His stats have slightly improved each season, so one might assume that he has some upside and might be worth a middle rounder.
7. Trevor Guyton - California (6' 3" - 280 lbs.)
Slightly undersized, Trever Guyton still makes it onto the list. He could move up if he plays a little larger than he actually is. He seems to be a guy that has the ability to move around on the defensive line, being that he has the appropriate size to do so. Ideally, a 3-4 Defensive end should be 6' 4"+ and 285+ lbs.
8. (-5) Jerel Worthy (*rJR) – Michigan State (6' 3" - 310 lbs.)
I haven't really heard much about this guy since the season began. However, I have seen him sliding down draft boards and just dropping in the ratings, hence with no good word on him I have dropped him on mine. He also doesn't seem to be much of a 3-4 DE fit, but if he improves his play then that could change. He is better than #8 on any list but as a 3-4 DE this is where I have to have him.
Dropped: Marcus Forston (*JR) - Miami (Fla)
This seems to be the strength of the upcoming draft class. Upon the first look a few months ago, it seemed like we wouldn't be able get many good sized corners in this year's draft. However, after further evaluation and some games being played to allow players to show their stuff, I have discovered that there is actually a good amount of good sized corners in this years draft. With all of the taller receivers and the popular addition of stretching the field vertically now (in addition to the width and length of the field). It makes sense since vertically (jumping balls) there is no out of bounds. So here are the prospects that I have had my eye on or just have stood out to me so far in the college ranks this year.
1. Dre Kirkpatrick (*JR) - Alabama
Height: 6' 3"
Weight: 192 lbs.
The one thing that impresses me most about Dre is his awareness. He could be better at locating the ball in the air when in man coverage, however he is very good at reacting to the play and flying to the ball. I love the big hits that he delivers and he has been able to stop a wide receiver screen in the backfield as soon as the ball is caught by the reciever. He even came close to picking off one of them. Although his big hits are nice, I like sound tacklers and prefer a wrap and drive kind of guy. I believe you can deliver a big hit while still wrapping up. Also with his height he is a real advantage as the NFL seems to be going the way of the Chargers and trying to find those big tall receivers that can go get those jump balls, so the taller corners are in high demand.
2. Morris Claiborne (*JR) - LSU
Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 185 lbs.
Pretty good size and has been called the "best cover corner in the NCAA". He had five picks last season returning them for a total of 101 yards in 2010 operating opposite of Patrick Peterson. The concern was if he could continue that performance without Peterson on the other side, and so far he has. As of this moment he has 2 interceptions on the year, so he is on pace to match his production last year at the position. His kick return ability also makes him a very attractive prospect, especially since the new kickoff rules haven't had the effect on kick-off returns that was originally perceived.
3. Stephon Gilmore (*JR) - South Carolina (+1)
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 195 lbs.
Apparently one of the more physical corners in this years class. Rob Rang of nfldraftscout.com calls him "not as flashy" as other corners in the draft, but states that his physicality will be welcomed in today's NFL. He possesses what I would call above average height but will probably need to beef up some coming into the NFL as 195 at 6' 1" might be a little underweight. Last season he ended with three interceptions and currently has two so far this year, so he may be on pace to exceed his production last year.
4. Xavier Rhodes (**rSO) - Florida State
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 215 lbs.I was informed of this guy when I did my preseason version of Keeping Up with the Collegiates. I still haven't gotten the chance to watch him play, but he is garnering attention among scouts. Even as a redshirted sophomore, he is still a sophomore so we can't really count on him coming out for the draft this year. However, you can see his height and weight is ideal for today's NFL. He is a prospect to keep an eye on this year and most likely next year, although if he comes out for the draft this year, it will be because he has a grade good enough to find a home on the first day.
5. Jayron Hosley (*JR) - Virginia Tech
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 171 lbs.One of the smaller corners that you will see here on my list. However, the guy is a ball hawk. He registered nine picks last year, which was good enough to rank him first in the FBS. So far this season he has registered three picks, so he is on pace for another season with good production, but probably not match last years. The least he can do is show that this is the kind of production you can expect from him from week to week. If he can do that, he might just shoot up boards, despite his size.
6. Janoris Jenkins - Northern Alabama (5' 11" - 188 lbs.)
Until he proves that his off the field issues are behind him, which will only happen over time, then I cannot place him in my top five. However, his production and ability is unquestionably incredible. He doesn't play against great competition at Northern Alabama this season (Division II competition I believe) however he was known to shut down top tier receivers in his time at Florida. Despite his issues he remains high on draft boards, but to me, a player can be the best ever. But if he gets suspended then he is the most worthless player ever.
7. Casey Hayward - Vanderbilt (5' 11" - 188 lbs.)
From draftcountdown.com on Sept. 28:
Casey Hayward may be next in line and has the statistics to back it up after finishing last season with 6 interceptions, 11 passes defended, and 70 total tackles. Hayward is already on pace to match or surpass that productivity this year for a sneaky good defense. Hayward’s fundamentals are part of what makes him such a great player as he is able to stay low and smooth in his backpedal while reading receivers well. Hayward can also change direction quickly and does a nice job of wrapping up when tackling, showing impressive physicality versus bigger wideouts. All that was showcased against South Carolina this past week as Hayward was matched up against a potential Top 10 overall pick in Alshon Jeffrey. Hayward not only held Jeffrey to just 2 catches for 34 yards, but he also recorded two interceptions on the day. Hayward isn't flashy, but he gets the job done and could at the very least be a quality nickle or dime corner in the NFL.
8. Trumaine Johnson - Montana (6' 3" - 210 lbs.)
His teammates just call him "Tru". Most he likely will end up being a middle round project coming out of Montana. I can only think of one player (Titans' pro bowl KR/WR Mark Mariani) that has come out of this school. However, if you go here you can see the kind of playmaking ability the guy has. What good is a 6' 3" corner over a smaller one if he doesn't use his size as an advantage. Well, watch and you will see he knows how to use it to high point a ball. By the way, on the video, you might enjoy the annunciation of the announce. I didn't know that there were people out there that actually still pronounced every letter in a word, so I found it somewhat comical.
Dropped: Alfonso Dennard (Nebraska)
Honorable Mention: Tyrann Mathieu (**SO) of LSU. He would be on this list but since he is only a sophomore, he is not yet draft eligible as you must be at least 3 years out of high school to enter the NFL. If you don't know who this guy is, shame on you. He practically Ninja'd the QB on a blitz, knocking the ball to the ground and then picking it up and running it in himself. Oh, and that is by far not the first time he has done that. If you have seen any of the Heisman watch shows, you have to know who this kid is. He had 6% of the votes for 1st place as a defender/returner and sophomore. He is kind of small at 5' 9" and 175 lbs but he plays like he is 6' 4" 220 lbs. Keep an eye on the NEW #7 for LSU. He will be a special player whenever he does decide to enter the NFL.
This class doesn't seem to be as strong here as it does in the cornerback market, however it seems to be a very good crop. We are truly in luck this year because the defensive back end seems to be where we have needed the most improvement. Both of our safeties are only signed for one season, so we have no way of knowing if both of them will return next year or if both will be gone or what the case will be. So let us have a look at the crop of safeties that could be on our board this spring.
1. (+1) Markelle Martin - Oklahoma State
OSU Defense in Alamo Bowl. Watch for #10, he is everywhere here. You will especially like the 3:38 mark...
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 198 lbs.
In the games that I have watched of Markelle they have tended to keep the ball away form him and not throw in his direction. However, he does seem to fly toe the ball really well and will deliver a big hit, but will wrap up in doing so, which I love. The primary objective when tackling a guy is to get him to the ground, so being a sound tackler that wraps up is most important to me. He is also a North Texas native growing up in Wichita Falls, TX (about 142 miles away from Dallas). One might assume that he is a Dallas Cowboys fan so he may love the idea of earning a star on his helmet and playing in the death star. The above video is from last year's Alamo Bowl, so you know he can perform on the big stage. He just keeps showing up and making plays.
2. (-1) T.J. McDonald (*JR) - USC
Height: 6' 3"
Weight: 205 lbs.
So far from a production standpoint this year he is my favorite prospect. Against Arizona he had two picks. The balls where overthrown but it still shows good awareness to be in the right place and being able to catch the ball. The first was a really nice diving catch though, which in the NFL he would have had plenty of room to get up and get a return out of it. I also love his physicality in making tackles. I've seen some penalties for head to head contact, but according to NFL rules, there would not have been a flag on either of them, as all head to head contact is prohibited in the collegiate rulebook. He also has a good pedigree with his father (Tim McDonald) being an all-pro safety in college as well as in the NFL, where he played for 13 seasons.
3. Ray-Ray Armstrong (*JR) – Miami (Fla)
Height: 6' 4"
Weight: 215 lbs.I have only gotten to watch pieces of one game of his this year because of the 4 game suspension and the fact that the game was a re-broadcasted game (vs. Virginia Tech) and only showed the scoring drives, so I never got to see him make any of the big plays I know he is capable of. However, for the most part I was pleased with what I saw. He does seem to have a tendency to bit on play action, but that might just be some rust he needs to knock off from the suspension, so stay tuned. Nevertheless, he remains the best SS prospect in this class so far.
4. (+3) Mark Baron - Alabama
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 218 lbs.This guy seems to just constantly make plays and never seems to be out of position. He possesses very good size for a safety and plays for one of the nations best defenses. He also possesses good ball skills and knows how to come down with a ball and make a play on the deep ball. I saw him make a nice catch on a deep ball while high pointing it too, which is exactly what anyone catching a ball should do, high point it. A very sound tackler as well and a leader on that Alabama defense. I'm sure the Cowboys would welcome a safety of this caliber.
5. (-1) Robert Lester (*JR) – Alabama
Height: 6' 2"
Weight: 210 lbs.
He possesses really good awareness and shows great effort on each play. If he is close to the ball he seems to know how to at least get a hand on it. I saw one game where he came up with a pick on two consecutive plays, however, both were called back after further review. It was great to see such effort out of him on the plays though. He is a little undisciplined though, as in the game against Florida this year he was caught peeking into the back field and the first play from scrimmage was an 80 yard touchdown and did not see the receiver being covered by Dre Kirkpatrick going deep and allowed the defender to get behind him. Not quite the playmaker that Mark Barron is but I would be surprised to see him still around after the second round at this point.
6. Antonio Allen – South Carolina (6' 2" - 202 lbs.)
He seems to play more of a hybrid position as he is listed as a safety in some areas but a safety in others. He definitely possesses the size of a safety though and has decent play making ability.
7. Aaron Henry – Wisconsin (6' 0" - 210 lbs.)
Could show some better ball skills and ability to create turnovers, so that is why I have him rated here.
8. Tony Dye - UCLA (6' 0" - 216 lbs.)
Not much of a ball hawk, so that is why I have him rated this low, but one of UCLA's team leaders in tackles last year and so far doing a decent job producing in that area again. I would like to see a safety have more than just one career interception.
Dropped: Janzen Jackson - FS - Tennessee; Harrison Smith - SS - Notre Dame; Trenton Robinson - FS - Michigan State
Based on what we have seen from our running game I think we may need to be taking a look at the halfbacks in this years draft class. Just to inform you I would much rather that the player was already on our team and just stepped up or got his chance (Phillip Tanner deserves a few touches). We all know that this and run blocking go hand-in-hand, so we could see this become less of an issue, but I think we are in need of more of a featured runner. Not an every down back, because those are very rare in today’s NFL, but more of a featured back. From what I have seen from Felix, he is good and so are the guys behind him but none of them are really built to possibly take 20+ carries per game. Ideally, even with a 3-back attack, you should have one back that takes around 20 carries and then split 10-15 more carries between the other two throughout the game (10 for #2 and 5 for #3). So here is my rankings for halfbacks in this class.
1. Trent Richardson (*JR) - Alabama
Trying to get Trent Richardson down. Not really football related but look at this guy's size...
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 224 lbs.A beast, and not much else left to say. I see this guy run and he just doesn't seem to go down. Shows a strong resemblance to Mark Ingram in that regard but seems to have better speed and much stronger. About as close to an every down back coming out of college that I have seen in a long time. Another thing that makes him a very attractive prospect for the cowboys is his ability to catch the ball. Not too many college halfbacks that I see going out as a wide receiver, on a fairly normal basis.
2. Lamar Miller (**rSO) – Miami (Fla)
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 212 lbs.Another player close seeming like he might be able to be an every down back. He catches the ball well out of the backfield as well. I saw him make a a great catch on a trick play where a receiver through him the ball in the end zone. He was wide open but had to adjust to the ball and made a spectacular catch. It wasn't one handed, but this would have been an impressive catch even for a receiver. its the right holes or just find a seem if the one that was supposed to be there isn't. He does get really good run blocking though, so one might wonder how he might do with less than stellar run blocking. However, he doesn't seem to have an ability to make people miss.
3. LaMichael James (*rJR) - Oregon
Height: 5' 9"
Weight: 195 lbs.
I have concerns about his size and facing the big defenders that he will find in the NFL. He doesn't quite have MoJo Drew size but its somewhat close (Jones-Drew is 5' 7" 207 lbs.) so you should never doubt. We know the guy can run and from what I know has sub 4.4 speed.
4. Cyrus Gray – Texas A&M
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 200 lbs.
A native of DeSoto, Texas so most likely a guy that would love to wear the star. Lets see what draft countdown had to say about him:
Coming into the season Gray was considered to be the country's top senior running back prospect but he has seen his stock take a hit so far. Not only is Gray losing carries to junior Christine Michael, but he has not been as effective this year averaging just 4.7 yards a carry which is about half a yard less than his career average. Gray's 5’10 and 200 pound frame allows for a nice blend of explosiveness and toughness with an ability to run up the gut or outside. However, Gray hasn't showcased the same tackle breaking ability that he did a year ago. That seemed to change this past week though in the Aggies victory over Texas Tech, with Gray carrying the ball 21 times for 116 yards and a touchdown. Gray also caught a screen pass for 21 yards and showcased those soft hands. Despite his early struggles Gray still projects as a possible second day pick, especially if he can build on the momentum he generated last weekend.
5. Montee Ball (*JR) - Wisconsin
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 210 lbs.
One of the things about this guy that I find kind of funny is the way that announcers say his name. When they say it fast, it commonly ends up sounding like "Money Ball". I won't quite go the lengths to call this guy "MONEY" just yet, but he has been fairly impressive. Just watch the Nebraska @ Wisconsin game and you will probably be impressed with his production in that game, both catching the ball as well as running with it. Well all know that Wisconsin is the prime program to find offensive lineman, but he runs hard and didn't go down easy if they did manage to get their hands on him.
6. David Wilson (*JR) – Virginia Tech (5' 10" - 205 lbs.)
I was impressed with some of the highlights that they showed during the game against the Miami 'Canes from previous games. He just has a great ability to change direction. I don't see him catching the ball much though so I have him dropped down to here.
7. Chris Polk (*rJR) – Washington (5' 11" - 222 lbs.)
Rated as one of the better runners in the NCAA by most but I have him dropped down to here for the mere fact that I think against the college competition that he faces, his yards per carry should be higher. Especially after hearing that he supposedly had huge games against Utah and Oregon State (I believe)
8. Doug Martin – Boise State (5' 9" - 215 lbs.)
From DraftCountdown.com on Sept. 21:
Martin is the type of running back who packs a powerful punch going through the defensive line while still showcasing solid receiving and blocking skills. Listed at just 5’9, Martin will immediately get knocked for being too short to play the position as a professional, but while Martin may be short he certainly isn't small with a thick 215 pound build. Martin helped lead the Broncos to a big win over Toledo with 70 yards rushing and 122 yards receiving, as well as a receiving touchdown. At this point Martin is a mid-rounder and that multi-dimensional game should allow him to be successful in one role or another.
Whew... Well, there is my evaluation of all of the positions. As I have said I am not able to watch ALL of the game as there are literally just way too many games for my DVR to handle or record at once. I also just simply don't get all of them either. I, as well as everyone else will appreciate your feedback on what is going. I also love to learn about other talent out there that might be flying underneath the radar that I may have missed. I am more focused on the talent that will probably come off the board on the first two days of the draft right now. After the season I may do a little more research on the later round prospects, although I do have a couple listed here.
I hope you enjoyed the videos this time instead of just some pictures, although there aren't videos for EACH of the the prospects. Now each of you can see what you can expect, at least on a small scale, from these players and give you a general idea of what caliber of players they are. If nothing else, one thing you should take from this is that these are all some players that you should keep an eye on, as I think each of them could make a nice fit with a star on their helmet next year as well as resolving a need for us. We still have plenty more football to watch and the season is still young, both in the collegiate ranks and professional.