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National Football League
Draft King Analysis

October 31, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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If there was anyone left who doubted Andrew Luck's moxie, those thoughts were shoved out the window when he rallied his Stanford team from a 10-point third quarter deficit to beat USC 56-48 in a triple overtime thriller on Saturday night. Stanford rallied to tie the game, only for Luck to then throw a rare interception. In what was only Luck's fourth interception thrown in the 2011 season, USC cornerback Nickell Robey took a chance, jumped the route, picked off the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.

That might have rattled other QBs, but not Luck. He looked calm, in control, and rather seamless in his efforts to drive the Cardinal back for a tying score. The Cardinal ended up unbeaten after escaping from USC, and Stanford doesn't have to worry about a Pac-12 conference title game rematch with USC, which is on probation and not allowed to play in that game this year. If Stanford beats Oregon at home, the Cardinal have a good shot at finishing the regular season with an unbeaten record.

Also looking good in that game was USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who was 28-for-45 for 284 yards and three TDs against just one interception. The same could be said for Oklahoma QB Landry Jones, who lead OU in a route of previously unbeaten Kansas State behind 35-for-47 throwing for 505 yards and 5 TDs against two picks.

There is little argument that, barring injury or something unforeseen off the field or one of the three returning to college for 2012, Luck will be the first QB drafted in April, while Barkley and Jones battle for the #2 (and #3) positions. There are other quality quarterbacks out there, including Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, and with accurate passing being a premium in the NFL more than ever before, there is even more importance put on teams to find top-notch QBs to guide their offenses for the long-term.

In contrast, with the running game becoming less important relative to a given team's success, the idea of multiple running backs being taken in round one becomes slimmer and slimmer. It could still happen, though beyond Alabama RB Trent Richardson it becomes unclear how things will play out. Many of the east coast United States football fans missed the late Saturday night battle between Washington and Arizona (that's college ball, not Redskins/Cardinals), but Huskies RB Chris Polk had a great game and looks like a viable possibility to be one of the first few RBs selected if he opts to leave Washington after the season.

There will be concern about Oregon RB LaMichael James until the status of his dislocated right elbow is settled, but like Richardson and Polk, James will likely be one of the first few RBs selected if he leaves early for the NFL. While all of those are underclassmen, there are plenty of talented RBs who could be appealing anywhere from rounds 2-4 (or beyond): Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray, Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead, and Doug Martin of Boise State.

Looking at the wide receiver position, the top two guys still look to be South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. I like Jeffery's height advantage (6'4" compared with 6'1" for Blackmon), but Blackmon has shown tremendous ability to catch almost anything thrown his way. But anyone looking at film of Jeffery jumping to beat two Mississippi State defenders on a TD pass that gave South Carolina a win at Mississippi State knows that Jeffery has that young Randy Moss or current Calvin Johnson type ability to outjump a defender (or two) to haul in a TD pass.

Other WRs who could end up being high picks include Notre Dame senior Michael Floyd, who I believe has similar skill to both Jeffery and Blacmon, along with Rutgers WR Mohamed Sanu (a wild card who was injured for much of 2010 but who has bounced back for a good 2011 season), North Carolina's Dwight Jones, Wisconsin's Nick Toon, and Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles. With the passing game becoming more valuable, likewise elite talent at wide receiver has become more valuable in the NFL.

Not to be overlooked in all of this is the importance of good pass protection. Juniors rule the top spots for offensive tackle prospects, with USC's Matt Kalil, Stanford's Jonathan Martin, Wisconsin's Ricky Wagner, and Iowa's Riley Reiff looking to be ahead of the pack at this point. Comparing Kalil with Martin was an interesting sidebar to Stanford/USC this past Saturday, with both looking strong, as you might imagine.

There are viable senior prospects: Oklahoma State OT Levy Adcock, Ohio State's Mike Adams, BYU's Matt Reynolds, and dual Florida State OTs Zebrie Sanders and Andrew Datko lead the charge at this point. Nate Potter, who is a polarizing prospect, will need to show in off-season workouts that he is worthy of being taken with a selection in the top 3-4 rounds, if not higher. Opinions seem to vary on Potter more than they have for any other major offensive tackle prospect in recent years. Some think highly of him, while others think he's not even worthy of a draft pick. That's a remarkable swing.

It's noteworthy that the top offensive tackle prospects are mostly 6'6" (with a few at 6'5"). Besides BYU OT Matt Reynolds (who's 6'4") it's remarkable to see 6'5" to 6'6" being the prototype range for OTs, kind of like how 6'3" to 6'5" is the prototype height for elite quarterbacks. This isn't old news, but it warrants considering.


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