Now, I have to state that I am not a huge fan of College football. I pretty much only watch pro football for the simple reason that I don't like to watch the common 45 - 3 blowout that happens seemingly more than once a week in college football. However, a reason I do watch it is to watch for players. Patrick Peterson and Julio Jones were some of the guys I really kept my eye on during the college season last year. I didn't watch all of the games, but I paid close attention to how they were doing.
Now, with all of the holes that we still have on this team I think it is appropriate (especially in my excitement to finally be able to watch football again) to create a list of players to keep an eye on for next year's NFL Draft. Mock drafts at this point are pointless because we don't know who will be drafting where, but we can take a look at players that we think may be able to fill some holes for us at certain positions. I believe that we will largely focus on defense in the next draft since we went largely heavy on the offensive side of the ball, especially to retool our O-Line.
I will start off with the positions I think we are most in need of after the jump...
Defensive End (5-Technique)
This is an interesting position to watch for in the college ranks because not many schools line up in a 3-4 defensive front. The teams that do, of course, are the ones you really want to pay attention to because you can see how effective those players will be in a 3-4 scheme, instead of guessing how well they will transition. Players for this spot can come from any spot on the D-Line. However, in my personal preference I would like a Defensive End that has the size to play the 5-technique in the NFL (280+ lbs). So lets take a look at some players.
Jared Crick - DE/DT - Nebraska
Height: 6' 6"
Crick came to the Nebraska Cornhuskers as a Defensive End but made the switch to Defensive Tackle in spring of 2008 after his redshirt season. His overall size however is closer to that of a defensive end (J.J. Watt played DE at Wisconsin at 6' 6" 290 lbs.). As you can see by his size he is the prototypical size for a 3-4 Defensive End. Because of his apparent versatility and the fact that he used to play DE and was later switched to DT for his size increase, I like this guy more than other DT because he would be able to better fulfill the role of a 3-4 Defensive end than most would by having the skils to both stop the run AND rush the passer. From what I read, this guy is probably the closest thing to J.J. Watt (best 3-4 DE in the 2011 draft). Last season he had 9.5 Sacks, 17 Tackles for Loss, 70 total tackles (5.0/game) with 36 solo stops, and 2 pass break-ups. In 2009 he had 73 Tackles, 15 for loss, 9.5 Sacks (5 came against Baylor), 16 QB Hurries and 4 Pass break-ups. As you can see the guy is fairly consistent, posting pretty much the same stats last year as in 2009 (one might argue that he improved on sacks though because 5 did come against Baylor in 2009, but how many people register 5 sacks in a single game?) He could use some more size, but every player gains some weight when they get into the NFL Weight Rooms.
Jerel Worthy (*JR) - DT - Michigan State
Height: 6' 3"
Weight: 310 lbs.
For the sake of the position and the fact that you want to look at DTs too, this is the top prospect at DT for a switch to the 5-tech. You might even argue that Jerel Worthy has the size to even slide in to play the Nose in a pinch. Like I stated previously, every player gains a little weight coming to the pros from being in a pro weight room. As far as stats, in his sophomore season he registered 40 tackles with 14 solo stops (8 for loss), 3 passes defensed and 4.0 Sacks. As a freshman he registered 37 tackles with 19 solo stops (9 for loss), 2 passes defensed and 4.5 Sacks. So also a fairly consistent player. He is also only a Junior, so a little younger (he'll be 21 at the 2012 draft). You look for consistent play from year to year. A lot will depend on how well he does this year though so we will see.
1. Quinton Coples - DE - UNC (6' 6" - 278 lbs - 06-22-1990)
2. Billy Winn - DE - Boise State (6' 4" - 295 lbs - 01-01-1989)
3. Marcus Forston (*JR) - DT - Miami (Fla.) (6' 3" - 300 lbs - 11-30-1990
Terence Newman is getting up there in age, and I know that a lot of people are screaming to either trade him or that he should have been the new free safety. I won't say anything about that, but he will need a replacement soon in the future. So here are some players to keep an eye on this year.
D'Andre (Dre) Kirkpatrick (*JR) - CB - Alabama
Height: 6' 3"
Weight: 192 lbs.
First of all what you might notice is his size. Most corners are smaller players, like maybe 6' and under. Also coming into the NFL he very well will break the 200 lbs. mark. We also all know the caliber of players that come out of Alabama under Coach Saban. I don't have any doubt that he will be a tough, physical hard nosed player that will love the game. Highly likely he'll be an RKG for Jason Garrett's system. Also, how could you not like a guy with the nickname "SWAGGA". Exactly the kind of guy we should be looking for. As for stats, lets have a look. As a sophomore he registered 7 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 3 interceptions (30 yds on returns), and 53 tackles (4 for loss) in his first season as a starter. He was only a reserve as a true freshman, but he was referred to as a "DEMON" on the punt team. As a Junior, he may elect to stay for his senior season, but still a great kid to keep an eye on. Hopefully he falls to the middle of the first round where we could at least have a shot at him.
Morris Claiborne (*JR) - CB - LSU (6' 0" - 185 - 02-07-1990)
Alfonzo Dennard - CB - Nebraska (5' 10" - 195 lbs - 09-09-1989)
Stephon Gilmore (**SO) - CB - South Carolina (6' 1" - 194 lbs - 9-19-1990)
We have signed both of our current safeties to 1 year contracts and I believe that is for a reason. We will probably be looking to retool this position in the next draft. There should be a much better safety crop next year. I don't want to mention him in the list as there are plenty of rumors going around about what he is doing, but word has it that Deunta Williams, FS from UNC, is taking a year off so he can heal his leg and then entering the draft next year so that he can have even competition and drafted where he should be, not later because of an uncertainty with his health. Again that is just speculation, but it is a situation to monitor anyway. Now, onto the prospects.
T.J. McDonald (*JR) - FS - USC
Height: 6' 3"
Weight: 205 lbs.
T.J. McDonald is one of 37 players on the Jim Thorpe award watch list in the preseason. This is the award annually given to the nations best defensive back. Seems to have a good pedigree as well since his father, Tim McDonald, was an All-American safety at USC and played 13 years in the NFL. Another great side to him is he is still very young, as he will turn 21 just a few months before the draft. As far as stats, as a sophomore last year he registered a team leading 89 tackles with 3 for loss and 1 sack, 4 passes defensed, 3 interceptions and a blocked punt. He was a back-up strong safety his freshman year. He saw limited action, but it speaks to his versatility.
Markelle Martin - FS - Oklahoma State
Height: 6' 1"
Weight: 198 lbs.
I couldn't decide which FS I liked more as a prospect. McDonald certainly has the physical skills. However, one thing that earns some kudos for Markelle Martin is where he grew up. He grew up in Wichita Falls, TX which is about 120 Miles NW of Dallas. High chance that he is a cowboy fan. What better than to pick up a kid that has been dreaming of playing for the cowboys since his childhood days. And just like Dez, draft him from the Cowboys to become a Cowboy. As far as stats go, in Martin's junior year he registered 55 tackles for the year, led the team with 10 pass break-ups, and had 3 interceptions which was good enough to tie him for second on the team. Also a great note was that he won player of the game honors in the Valero Alamo Bowl last year by returning an interception 62 yards for a touchdown along with 2 pass break-ups, so we know he can perform on the big stage when it counts most. In his sophomore season he missed two games but still manage to rank fifth on the team with 45 tackles, He also managed to place second with 11 pass break-ups, sadly though, no interceptions as a sophomore.
Ray-Ray Armstrong (*JR) - SS - Miami (Fla.)
Height: 6' 4"
Weight: 215 lbs.
DOB: 11-30-1990 (?)
Now this is a monster of a guy to be playing safety. How many defensive back do you know that are 6' 4"? We all know that Miami is one of the top teams to pump out NFL Caliber talent, and not only that, but some of the best players in the league. Did you know that in the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2011, 10 of those players attend Miami? Pretty safe bet to draft someone from there. Anyway, onto stats. As a Junior Ray-Ray lead the team in tackles with 79 stops (4.5 for loss which also lead the defensive backs), tied for the team lead with three interceptions (one of which he returned 22 yards for a touchdown against Florida A&M). He was one of three true freshman to see significant playing time for the 'Canes in 2009. Not that this is of great importance but the player that came in at #4 on the NFL's Top 100 was a safety from Miami by the name of Ed Reed. Maybe you've heard of him. I'm not making comparisons, just stating the school has a good pedigree. I know our faithful friend Chia for one, being a Miami aficionado, will be watching this guy closely.
Robert Lester - FS - Alabama (6' 2" - 210 lbs. - 12-31-1989?)
Janzen Jackson - FS - Tennessee (6' 0" - 187 lbs. - 11-30-1991)
Harrison Smith - SS - Notre Dame (6' 2" - 215 lbs - 02-02-1989)
Mark Barron - SS - Alabama (6' 2" - 218 lbs - 10-27-1989)
Trenton Robinson - FS - Michigan State (6' 1" - 195 lbs. - 02-16-1990)
Ok, so in closing, now you know the players that I will be watching for in highlights and games at the college level. Will our cowboys end up picking up any of these guys in the draft? We shall wait and see.