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Draft King Analysis

August 30, 2011
Lou Pickney,

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Earlier today, Charles Robinson responded to Jason Whitlock's attack article about him on Nick Wright's What's Wright radio show on 610 KCSP in Kansas City. Robinson made a very good case defending himself and his reporting, and I'm inclined to take Robinson's side on this one. Yahoo! Sports has become a strong go-to source for major investigative sports reporting, particularly with reports related to college football programs. It's a great interview and I hope that KCSP will put it online for people to listen to later. Wright is a good radio host.

Perhaps most interesting: Robinson mentioned that there were 30 names left out because he was unable to corroborate the stories about those individuals. It's pretty solid to use two-source reporting and good journalism to stick with it.

Later in the afternoon, Joe Schad revealed the suspensions that the University of Miami is playing the current players mentioned in the Yahoo! Sports report. As it related to the 2012 NFL Draft, two potential first-round picks face suspension: one game for DT Marcus Forston and four games for SS Ray-Ray Armstrong. Also noteworthy is that starting QB Jacoby Harris faces only a one-game suspension.

This Labor Day weekend features a rather large slate of quality games by opening weekend standards, with games beginning on Thursday night. The NFL exhibition season ends on Thursday evening, leaving the holiday weekend wide open for college (and high school) games to take center stage for football-starved fans. Below is a list of games scheduled for Thursday and Friday involving players potentially eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft who might be drafted in the first few rounds of the selection process.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

UNLV at Wisconsin: Wisconsin senior WR Nick Toon, the son of former Jets WR Al Toon, looks to break out of the second-tier pack this fall. Toon caught what appears to be a major break with former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson transferring to Wisconsin to use his final year of NCAA eligibility as he enters grad school in Madison.

Western Kentucky vs. Kentucky (in Nashville): Redshirt junior OG Larry Warford is on the All-SEC Football Preseason First Team, and he has NFL quality size for the position at 6'3" 335 pounds. As with many names on this list, Warford would likely be better served to stay at Kentucky through his senior season, particularly since he can further improve his technique and skill-set ahead of a potential NFL career.

Murray State at Louisville: It's a likely squash match for the Cardinals, but two players to watch for Louisville are redshirt junior center Mario Benavides and redshirt sophomore strong safety Hakeem Smith. Benavides had knee surgery in the spring and is the only returning starter on the offensive line from 2010. Smith, as a redshirt sophomore in 2010, was named the 2010 Big East rookie of the year. Smith might not have elite speed (estimated 4.6 range) but he lead Louisville in tackles last year with 80 and made 11 starts.

Fordham at Connecticut: UConn may be a 40 point favorite, but if you find yourself watching this game, the player to keep an eye on for Connecticut is senior DT Kendall Reyes. At 6'4" 300 pounds, Reyes had a great 2010 season, earning first-team Big East team honors as a captain and defensive leader. Reyes would be ideal for an NFL team running a 4-3 defense to add into its defensive line rotation, though there are some who think that Reyes has a chance to play his way into being a first round pick in 2012. That might be a stretch, but it isn't impossible given his athleticism and versatility.

Update 8/31/2011: Due to the impact of Hurricane Irene, the Fordham/UConn game has been moved from Thursday to Saturday. Deal with it (h/t to LSUfreek).

Western Carolina at Georgia Tech: This should be a blowout for the Yellow Jackets, but two players to watch for them are junior DE Izaan Cross and sophomore FS Isaiah Johnson. Cross flourished in Al Groh's 3-4 defensive scheme last year (another branch from the Bill Parcells tree), recording 6 tackles for a loss (and 44 tackles overall) in starting every game in 2010 for Georgia Tech. At 6'4" 300 pounds, Johnson is a prototype 3-4 defensive end, and with a strong showing in 2011 he might opt to bolt for the NFL, even though 3-4 DEs tend to not have nearly the value for teams as their 4-3 DE counterparts.

Mohamed Sanu
Mohamed Sanu had only 418 receiving yards in 2010 for Rutgers. (Icon SMI)
As for Isaiah Johnson, he's not NFL Draft eligible until 2013 at the earliest, and he still has plenty of learning to do. He's a raw talent, but keep an eye on #1 for the Yellow Jackets at free safety, as he has the potential to develop into a player who could make an impact both at Georgia Tech and potential on down the line in the NFL.

NC Central at Rutgers: The player to watch here is Rutgers WR Mohamed Sanu. The true junior is 6'2", weighs 220 pounds, and can run an estimated 4.57 40 yard dash. Last year there were high expectations for Sanu, but the Scarlet Knights had a difficult time getting the football in his hands. That, along with nagging injuries, kept Sanu from having the 2010 season that many had hoped to have. A matchup with I-AA/FCS NC Central, a team coming off a 3-8 season, might be just what the doctor ordered for Sanu to have a big start to the 2011 season.

Montana State at Utah: The Utes, playing their first game as a member of the Pac-12, have a number of talented players on their roster. Two potentially draft-eligible players to watch are redshirt junior DT David Kruger and redshirt junior LS (long snapper) Patrick Greene. Neither may make the leap to the NFL in 2012, but they are worth watching. David Kruger's brother, Paul Kruger, plays as a 3-4 DE for the Baltimore Ravens and also played at Utah. This is not to guarantee David a spot in the NFL, but David is taller (6'5" vs. 6'4") and 20 pounds heavier than Paul, though some believe David lacks Paul's mean streak.

As for Greene, he is in a very specialized position as a long snapper, but there are some players who have long NFL careers performing specialized roles. Greene snapped for every kick in 2009 and 2010 and looks poised to do the same in 2011. It would seem unlikely for Greene to leave for the NFL, even though he could, with another year of training and learning at Utah to potentially prepare him even better for a career in the NFL.

UC Davis at Arizona State: Hopes are high for the Sun Devils in 2011, and their top NFL prospect for 2012 is true junior MLB Vontaze Burfict. Opinions on Burfict range from him being a sure-fire first round pick to projecting more likely as a third-round selection. His physical tools are strong, as a 6'3" 250 pound playmaker with great instincts, unquestioned intensity, and playmaking skills. His timing at the line of scrimmage in jumping the snap is remarkable, and highlight reels show him busting into the backfield, breaking up passes, and playing to the whistle on every play. He earned a spot on the Playboy first team All-American preseason team for 2011, among a number of other honors.

The challenge with Burfict is his temper. Playing with an intense rage can be admirable, but containing that can be challenging for many young men, and that seems to be the case for Burfict. Most recently, Burfict punched a teammate after a preseason practice, something that he will no doubt be asked about by NFL general managers in the interview process. Burfict could return for 2012, and from most indications a bit of maturing would be beneficial for him. But, with a shot at being a 2012 NFL first-round pick and such a great skill-set, it would seem more likely that Burfict would leave for the NFL after the season.

Friday, September 2, 2011

TCU at Baylor
One year after Baylor traveled to Texas Christian and took a 45-10 drubbing from the Horned Frogs, the former Southwest Conference rivals will do battle in Waco at Floyd Casey Stadium in front of a national television audience on ESPN. QB Andy Dalton headed to the NFL after leading TCU to a win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, and the post-Dalton era begins in Waco on Friday.

Tank Carder
Tank Carder made a major impact in the 2011 Rose Bowl game for TCU. (Icon SMI)
For TCU, the player to watch closest relative to NFL potential is redshirt senior 6'2" 240 pound OLB Tank Carder. He earned defensive player of the game honors in the Rose Bowl (after breaking up a potential game-tying two point conversion attempt by Wisconsin) to go with being named the 2010 defensive player of the year in the Mountain West Conference. Carder started in all 26 of TCU's games in 2009 and 2010, a span in which he made an impressive 149 tackles. Carder isn't particularly fast, which might hurt his stock with some teams, but he is a proven hard worker and solid playmaker. He looks to fall into the round 2-3 range at this point, and he can build on that with another strong season this fall.

As for Baylor, the major hype surrounds redshirt junior QB Robert Griffin, a 6'2" 220 pounder who last fall lead the Bears to their first bowl game since 1994. He ran for 664 yards in 2010, but more impressive to me is his 67% completion rate and the fact that he threw for 22 TDs against just eight interceptions last year. If he can stay healthy, Griffin should be able to compete for an NFL job either next year or in 2013.

One other Baylor player to keep an eye on is redshirt sophomore Cyril Richardson. A native of Fort Worth, Richardson played in 12 of Baylor's 13 games last year at guard. But, with Danny Watkins having gone to the Philadelphia Eagles as a first round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the job of protecting Griffin's blind side now belongs to Richardson. At 6'5" 330 pounds, Richardson is larger than the 6'3" 310 pound Watkins is, but replicating the protection that Watkins provided for Griffin in the pocket will be a challenge. If he shows that he's up to the challenge, Richardson could ultimately find himself doing the same thing for a team in the NFL.

Youngstown State at Michigan State
If you aren't satisfied with just one Friday night college football game, there's also the showdown of I-AA/FCS Youngstown State traveling to East Lansing to take on Michigan State, a game slated to air on the Big Ten Network. Easily the top player to watch in this game will be redshirt junior Jerel Worthy, who presently is the top defensive tackle on the Draft King board at #8 overall. Worthy faces double-teams on nearly every possession, and he might not have an amazing highlight reel as a result, he is the type of 4-3 defensive tackle that NFL teams love to have on their roster. At 6'3" 310 pounds, it's not going to be easy for any opposing offense to go through him this fall.

While Worthy might have the most NFL upside at this point, senior QB Kirk Cousins will draw plenty of attention himself. Cousins is entering his third year as the starting QB at Michigan State, and he has made it clear that it's Rose Bowl (or BCS Championship Game) or bust for him this fall. He's 6'3" 205 pounds, right on that edge of where you want a QB to be, though if he can improve on his impressive 66.9% completion percentage from 2010 (where he threw for 20 TDs against ten interceptions) he might be able to draw consideration toward the top part of round two -- or possibly even the bottom part of round one. He's not a gunslinger, and he doesn't have desert speed, but Cousins has shown great leadership qualities to go with strong football fundamentals.

On Saturday there is a full slate of games with a whole host of players who are potential 2012 NFL Draft first round selections, with action continuing on Sunday with a pair of in-state rivalry games with SMU/Texas A&M and Marshall/West Virginia and finisihing up on Labor Day with Maryland hosting a suspension-depleted Miami Hurricanes team. There is plenty of college football on the docket for all to enjoy.


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