Draft King Analysis|
July 7, 2012
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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"We make the real money that we should be making and we're not throwing it away."
-Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood
July has arrived, and football-starved fans will soon enough be clamoring for the chance to watch preseason NFL games (and then will quickly be tired of that and ready for games that count to begin). For college football fans, the long national nightmare of a lack of a playoff system will finally come to an end in 2014, though a four-team playoff is nowhere near the ideal layout proposed in Death To The BCS by Dan Wetzel (et al) with 16 teams. But we'll get there eventually. Once the NCAA sees how profitable a playoff system will be compared with the corrupt past/present bowl system, they won't be able to stop with four teams. We'll get quarterfinals and, eventually, the classic I-AA/FCS 16 team format. Cash is king.
In a related note, now that there is a playoff system looming for I-A/FBS, can the NCAA please go back to the old I-A and I-AA names for the two Division I splits? The FBS and FCS titles are both cumbersome and, beginning in 2014, will be inaccurate since both I-A and I-AA will have a playoff system in place.
It's a bit silly to make major changes to 2013 NFL Mock Drafts at this point since, barring injury or run-ins with the law, not much tangible change can be measured. But it's worth looking at some of the top 2013 draft eligible prospects and look ahead toward what we might see in next April's draft.
I'll have a breakdown on defense later, but for now here are some top college guys to watch on offense this fall who could end up in the NFL after this season.
QUARTERBACK: USC's Matt Barkley is the presumptive favorite at this point to be the first quarterback drafted in 2013. But, just like Robert Griffin III showed last fall, a breakout season can shake things up in the anticipated pecking order at the position. The two SEC Tylers (Tennessee's Tyler Bray and Arkansas' Tyler Wilson) both have a chance to prove their NFL worthiness this fall, while Oklahoma's Landry Jones will need to show a return to his 2010 form. Though, to be fair to Jones, his stats in 2011 weren't remarkably worse than 2010, but his TD/INT ratio needs to improve.
There are some who are very bullish on Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas. He has prototype height (6'5") and at 255 pounds has more weight than a typical QB (which may be good or bad) but must show improved accuracy to prove he is ready for the NFL. Another sub 60% completion rate season won't cut it. Another 6'5" prospect to watch is E.J. Manuel of Florida State, who I especially like because of his accuracy and the fact that the last interception he threw in a game was in October of last year. At this point, in my opinion, Manuel is a much more NFL-ready QB than Thomas, at least based on what I saw from both guys last season.
There are some who like Kansas State's Collin Klein, who has the prototype size (another 6'5" guy), but he needs to show improved accuracy and take fewer sacks (44 in 2011) this fall to earn serious attention. Also, a wild card to keep an eye on is LSU's Zach Mettenberger, who like Bray and Thomas and Manuel and Klein is listed at 6'5", but who is an unproven commodity. If he has a monster season in the ultra-competitive SEC West, Mettenberger could go from not even having a Wikipedia entry at this point to being a potential NFL first-round pick.
The two biggest things to look for as stats start to add up this fall: completion percentage and TD/INT ratio. The modern NFL is tilted toward passing... but it has to be accurate passing. Yes, you can throw over the middle without your receiver being as likely to get waylaid with a vicious hit as he would have been a decade ago, but you had better throw the ball on target and not try to force it when the coverage is tight.
RUNNING BACK: South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore was NFL-ready after his true freshman season in 2010 (in which he scored 19 TDs), but because the NCAA serves as the NFL's de facto free minor league system and the NFL won't allow players into the league until they are at least three years removed from their high school graduating class, he couldn't jump to the pros. Lattimore still wouldn't have been NFL-eligible after last season, though that issue became moot when he suffered a torn ACL and cartilage damage in his left knee against Mississippi State.
Lattimore will likely be competing with another SEC running back coming off an injury for the top RB spot, Arkansas' Knile Davis, who broke his ankle in a preseason scrimmage and missed all of 2011. Pitt's Ray Graham is also returning from an injury-shortened season (notice a trend here?) where he looked dominant before tearing the ACL in his right knee against Connecticut. Graham doesn't have great size, but if he can return to the same form he had in showing amazing quickness and impressive lateral movements to get into open space before his injury last season, he could end up drawing strong interest from several NFL seasons.
In addition to those players, Wisconsin's Montee Ball is primed for a potentially strong 2012 and Alabama's Eddie Lacy will have an opportunity to showcase his skills as the Crimson Tide's primary running back. Following Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson is a tall order, but Lacy has the goods to do so. Alabama has such a strong recruiting machine in place that they can reload with elite talent while the next crop of blue-chippers learn behind the starters.
WIDE RECEIVER: USC's Robert Woods is #1 with a bullet, and Barkley-to-Woods could be a very productive combo in 2012, just as it was last season. Another Pac-12 receiver to watch is Washington State's Marquess Wilson. You might not know who Wilson is now, but if not I suspect you will very soon. He posted strong numbers in 2011 and Wilson will likely exceed those stats this fall with the pass-happy Mike Leach now in as the head coach for the Cougars.
|This 63-yard TD pass to Marquess Wilson gave Washington State a 31-27 win at Colorado last season. (US PRESSWIRE)|
Tennessee has two strong receiving prospects in Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers. Hunter suffered a torn ACL in his left knee early in the season against Florida in 2011, but if he shows that he has fully recovered... lookout. Rogers reportedly nearly left the Vols program this spring, but he ended up staying in Knoxville and showed last season that, even as the top receiving focus of opposing defenses once Hunter went down, he has the goods to handle the number one receiver role.
Cal's Keenan Allen is another highly-touted receiving prospect, and aside from the Tennessee duo, it could be argued that the top three 2013 draft-eligible wide receivers reside in the Pac-12. Beyond that top tier, a small school player who is drawing more and more attention is Elon's Aaron Mellette. It's rare that a 6'3" 215 pound receiver with good hands isn't snapped up by a major college, but Mellette was a basketball player who didn't start playing football until his sophomore season of high school.
Baylor transfer Josh Gordon was someone I looked forward to seeing play at Utah this year, but he will never take the field for the Utes. Due to undisclosed reasons (at least as of this writing), he successfully applied for entry into the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, which takes place this Thursday, 7/12/2012. The 6'4" 220 pound Gordon has the potential to have an immediate impact in the NFL, and now the game of chicken begins: how high of a 2013 draft pick is a team willing to give up to get him? Would the Redskins burn a third-round pick to reunite him with RG3? As always, time will tell.
TIGHT END: With the way rule-changes have impacted the NFL, tight ends with strong size and receiving ability (e.g. Jimmy Graham, Gronk, etc.) are more valuable than ever. That's why many feel that Notre Dame's Tyler Eifert is the top prospect at the position at this point; he was second in receiving last year for the Fighting Irish behind only Michael Floyd, and while he may have room for improvement as a blocker, at 6'5" 250 he has the size to effectively play tight end in the NFL, and it could lead to him being drafted higher than where he "should be" taken based on how the NFL is such a copycat league.
Beyond that it's a bit of a crap-shoot at this point. UCLA's Joseph Fauria had a solid 2011 season, but with a new administration in place with the Bruins, it's unclear what role Fauria will have this fall. I would anticipate Jim Mora, Jr. and company wanting to utilize his receiving skills, and they would be foolish to not do so.
Jake Stoneburner of Ohio State has day two draft type potential but found himself on the wrong side of the law -- no, not for felony assault or having a gun with the serial number scraped off, but for public urination. And, for that, now he's in Urban Meyer's doghouse. Seriously. I could understand that for Storm Klein if the domestic violence charges against him stick, but in the case of Stoneburner, at least in my opinion, Meyer went overboard.
How severe was the punishment? Meyer actually yanked his scholarship, giving Stoneburner the opportunity to "earn it back", which seems ridiculous to me. Either you're in or you're out, right? But it falls into the time-honored tradition of college athletes in the two big revenue sports (football and men's basketball) going through a regime change and having very little latitude no matter who comes in as the new head coach. The minute a recruit signs that letter of intent, the power shifts almost entirey to the school with which he has signed.
It's situations like that which make me happy to see elite high school athletes (like top defensive end prospect Robert Nkemdiche) use the leverage they have to better their situation while they can: before they sign their LOI. The fact that NCAA schools dole out year-to-year scholarships and not four-year scholarship guarantees seems inherently unfair to me anyway, not to mention out of place with the false notion of the student-athlete, particularly within the two big money-maker sports. Perhaps that will change soon. But it's much like signing a contract: once the ink is dry, you're powerless.
Note: this happens outside the world of football as well. Trust me, I know first-hand. Management in a larger market signs you away from your current job with a multi-year contract, then ownership blows out the bosses that hired you not long thereafter and installs less than honorable people in their place, horrific bullies who then torment you for the duration of your remaining contract simply because they can. But, at least in that scenario, you can have an agent represent you going into it if you so choose, you can negotiate escape clauses, plus you actually earn a paycheck for your efforts.
As for other tight ends who are strong receiving threats (which is where the big demand is right now), it wouldn't surprise me for there to be some breakout prospects this fall, including offensive linemen who fit a certain mold. Think of offensive tackles who fall into that 6'4" to 6'6" and 240-260 pound range who have unusually great speed for their size and great hands but who are too valuable to their team at tackle to be used in that capacity, or particularly basketball players with large frames and great hands who weren't football-exclusive athletes in college.
Consider this: what do elite NFL tight ends Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham all have in common? They all played college basketball at one point in time. Oakland tried to build on that trend just a few months ago, taking a flier on Cal-State Fullerton's Andre Hardy in mid-April; Hardy didn't have to go through the NFL Draft process since he didn't play college football. And while the Raiders cut the 6'5" 250 pound Hardy in May, I suspect there will be plenty of NFL scouts surveying the college basketball ranks for guys who could have the potential to transition into being a quality receiving threat at tight end.
One addendum: there is still a strong need for tight ends who are great blockers, guys like Alabama's Michael Williams who can also block very well but also catch a bullet pass in the red zone when needed. And if your quarterback doesn't have time to throw the ball because a tight end kept in to block on a given play fails to properly pick up an outside blitz, you're going to have problems. But, I assure you, NFL scouts are looking in particular for tight ends with the potential to become breakout receiving threats. The game has changed.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE: There are plenty of underclassmen with the chance to break out and earn early-mid first-round consideration. That includes redshirt junior Chris Faulk of LSU, who had a tremendous 2011 season but was largely overlooked because of how dominant LSU's defense was and how much of an oddball situation the Tigers had at QB. But another strong showing by Faulk in 2012 would put him in contention to be a top five pick in the 2013 NFL Draft should he head to the NFL after this fall.
|LSU's 6'6" 325 pound Chris Faulk might be the first offensive lineman selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. (US PRESSWIRE)|
Texas A&M has a pair of highly-touted underclassmen offensive tackles with Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews who could both end up becoming solid NFL linemen. You would expect the Big Ten to have at least one elite offensive tackle in the draft (they seem to nearly every year) and this year is no exception with the 6'7" Taylor Lewan of Michigan as a favorite among many evaluators and Wisconsin's Ricky Wagner as perhaps the top senior offensive tackle prospect in all of college football. Wagner waited his turn while eventual first-round pick Gabe Carimi manned the blind-side spot at left offensive tackle, then Wagner moved to that spot when Carimi headed to the pros and had a strong 2011 campaign protecting Russell Wilson at left tackle.
Nick Sabin's recruiting machine has two offensive linemen primed for imminent NFL success with Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker. Jones is a tweener who played guard before moving to left tackle and having a solid 2011 season. Fluker as a right offensive tackle likely won't end up being the top offensive tackle taken whether he goes pro after 2012 or returns to the Crimson Tide for 2013 before heading to the NFL, but there should be plenty of demand for him whenever he heads to the NFL.
Pass blocking is a coveted trait, and Virginia's Oday Aboushi showed plenty of skill at that in 2011. Had he come out for the 2012 NFL Draft he probably would be been a second round selection. But by returning to school he will put himself in position to improve his technique, get even stronger, and quite possibly end up going in round one of next year's draft.
OFFENSIVE GUARD: I realize that I listed Barrett Jones in the offensive tackle category, but if a team desperately needing a top-flight offensive guard drafts him in 2013, he could easily revert to that position. North Carolina senior Jonathan Cooper, one of the many great Butch Davis recruits to Chapel Hill, is perhaps the top pure offensive guard prospect. The players that Davis amassed during his time with the Tar Heels might not match the incredible level of talent of guys he recruited at Miami, but I will always wonder what would have happened had the Gary Wichard/John Blake scandal never taken place.
Along with Cooper (then a redshirt sophomore starter), look at the talent that North Carolina had going into the 2010 season: Robert Quinn, Quinton Coples, Marvin Austin, Greg Little, Zach Brown, Dwight Jones, Bruce Carter, Donte Paige-Moss, Da'Norris Searcy, Johnny White, Michael McAdoo, Charles Brown, Quan Sturdivant, Kendric Burney, Ryan Taylor, and even the then-unheralded T.J. Yates, who you might recall won an NFL road playoff game as a starting rookie quarterback this past January. Yes, some of those guys did play in the 2010 opener against LSU, but we'll never know how that game would have turned out if Austin and Quinn and Little and Searcy and Brown and McAdoo and Burney and the rest of the 12 UNC players suspended from that game had been allowed to take part in it.
I'm not looking to open old wounds with this: Wichard is dead, and all of the above guys besides Cooper made their way to the NFL (except for Paige-Moss, who suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in that terrible 2011 Independence Bowl game that typified UNC's free-fall, complete with the championship trophy accidentally being broken, turned pro anyway, and then went undrafted and has yet to sign with any NFL team), but my point is that Butch Davis is an elite recruiter and there's a reason that Davis and UNC recruited Cooper. He will likely be a first or early-second round selection in 2013 if he stays healthy, and his future is promising. But it's a shame that such a great allotment of talent wasn't able to reach its full potential and that the program ended up falling apart.
Big school offensive guards dominate the preseason OG favorites: Alabama senior Chance Warmack might be the best beyond Cooper as a true guard, but it's a tight competition right behind him with some talented underclassmen. Kentucky's Larry Warford, Wisconsin's Travis Fredrick, Nebraska's Spencer Long, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson, and Arkansas' Alvin Bailey could all end up having good seasons and go pro early, providing the draft with its deepest crop at guard in years... though it is highly unlikely that all would leave school early, particularly at a position like offensive guard where such moves en masse are uncommon.
CENTER: You could also include Oklahoma interior offensive lineman Gabe Ikard in the offensive guard underclassman mix, though he might end up projecting best as a center in the NFL.
But if NFL evaluators truly see Ikard as an ideal center prospect, he might be well-served to return to OU for 2013, as there are several strong senior centers who will be in the mix for the 2013 NFL Draft. Dalton Freeman of Clemson has started since his freshman season in 2009, while Khaled Holmes of USC is the early favorite to be the top center drafted among many pundits. Graham Pocic of Illinois was a Ron Zook recruit, one of many future NFL players that Zook recruited to Champaign, and he has the size to take on NFL interior defensive linemen.
Many are high on Iowa's James Ferentz (a rarity: a college head coach's son who plays center), but him being slightly undersized for the position knocks him down a peg in my estimation. Braxston Cave of Notre Dame and Louisville's Mario Benavides both have the edge in height, though all three have NFL quality potential.
Next up: a look at the top 2013 NFL Draft eligible defensive prospects.