On October 7th I wrote this article noting which players I believed were worthy of first round projections. I wanted to go back and review this list and also update it based on the games I’ve watched since. It’s important to remember that in some cases I’ve just not seen enough evidence to grade a player. For example, I’ve not had the opportunity to truly focus on Georgia’s rising linebacker Jarvis Jones – therefore I can’t offer a true evaluation. This is supposed to be a work in progress, moving towards the introduction of the weekly mock drafts that will begin in the upcoming weeks.
Of the initial twelve, here are the players maintaining first projections this month. Of the group, only the top five warrant high first round grades.
Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford)
Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Matt Kalil (OT, USC)
Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama)
Dwight Jones (WR, North Carolina)
Zach Brown (LB, North Carolina)
Peter Konz (C, Wisconsin)
Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford)
Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers)
Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State)
Vontaze Burfict (LB, Arizona State)
One player on October’s list – Alshon Jeffery (WR, SouthCarolina) – has performed poorly in the previous month and I’m going to re-visit his grade in December. Jeffery is struggling – partly due to a bad quarterback situation but also due his own general physique. He’s playing heavier than he did last year and it’s showing up in games too often. He always looked limited to the role of a big bodied possession receiver, capable of flashing the occasional spectacular catch. He wasn’t a burner and while he was never likely to be a consistent downfield threat, this season he’s struggling to get much separation even on simple routes. His burst off the snap is below average and you don’t see any real explosion in his breaks.
People like to compare him to Jonathan Baldwin last year, but Baldwin flashed #1 receiver potential despite the size. He could get separation quickly and make the big downfield plays, something I’m not convinced AlshonJeffery can do. It has to limit his stock given the depth of talent at the receiver position this year. He was always over rated as a top-ten pick, but now I’m starting to doubt whether he even look like a solid late first rounder.
I’m prepared to add two more players to the list following further tape study:
Morris Claiborne (CB, LSU)
He’s playing like a NFL cornerbackthis year, he’s a converted wide receiver withgreat fluidity and hip movement for a guy who plays above 6-0. His recovery skills are worthy of a high grade, and so is his ability to make spectacular plays on the ball. Claiborne hasn’t got the explosive overall skill set that Patrick Peterson had last year, but he may end up being a more consistent player at the next level. He does need to add a bit of further bulk in order to cope with the physical nature of the NFL, but his technique makes up for it at LSU and he’s got that all important ability to go through the gears when needed and accelerate to make a play on the ball.
Lamar Miller (RB, Miami)
I watched Miller in the first week of the season and he looked explosive – ideal size for the position (5-11, 210lbs), breakaway speed and the ability to play any down on offense. One game isn’t enough evidence to give someone a first round grade, but seeing Miller on an off day for his team against Virginia made me realise he’s the real deal. Although he wasn’t spectacular in the game (70 yards, no touchdowns from 16 carries) he flashed the same balance, vision and acceleration you want to see from a first round back. He won’t be a high choice like Trent Richardson and he won’t define anyone’s offense, but a good team looking for a first round playmaker could check out Miller.
One further player will be added to the list based on previous evidence in 2010
Janoris Jenkins (CB, North Alabama)
I left Jenkins off the confirmed list of first round picks last month, but noted him among the players to monitor. Since then he’s been ejected from a game for striking an opponent. Clearly this is a player who will always carry an element of controversy, which is a shame. Last year Jenkins would’ve been the clear #3 cornerbackbehind Patrick Peterson and Jimmy Smith. AJ Green, AlshonJeffery and Julio Jones all had their worst games of the season in 2010 when being shadowed by Jenkins. He’s an extreme talent, excellent in coverage with supreme fluidity and instinct. He’ll make big plays and he’ll double up as a return threat on special teams. If he can convince one team he’s matured enough to become a true pro, he’ll go in round one. That’s the only thing holding him back.
Four players I’ll continue to monitor this month prior to December’s update
Riley Reiff (OT, Iowa)
Having the opportunity to study Iowa only once this year has limited any opportunities to sufficiently grade Reiff, although I did catch some of his play in 2010. I am a bit concerned that he looks like a right tackle prospect – he can get beat off the edge by even a moderate speed rush and his footwork is hit and miss. He’s got the long frame and he’s not a slouch athletically, but when he’s drawn to the outside he’s susceptible to an inside rush move and like I said before – he’ll always be a little suspect against speed round the corner. I want to see if he’s made improvements in pass protection, because he’s a mean run blocker, he understands leverage and hand use as you’d expect from an Iowa-coached lineman and the worst case is he’ll make a solid book-end (of course most teams shouldn’t be drafting right tackles in round one).
Kevin Reddick (LB, North Carolina)
I went back and watched the Georgia Tech game and on a second viewing, Reddick really stood out. I have another UNC game saved against Clemson so I’ll do a bit more homework. Reddick was all over the field against GT and made a number of splash plays against the difficult triple option attack. Great tackler and he also appears to have the kind of restraint and composure lacking in Vontaze Burfict’s play. He’s not a stunning athlete but he consistently made plays outside of his comfort zone and for a guy only playing at 6-2, 233lbs he was a really sure tackler. When he needed to react quickly to the pass against GT (obviously it’s common in the triple option to assume the run) he was quick to get back into coverage and did a good job.
David De Castro (OG, Stanford)
Stanford’s right guard and a great technician. The USC game was the first time I’ve really focused on De Castro and he made several impressive plays. On one drive in particular there were three running plays where he drove the defender backwards a good 5-6 yards to create a huge hole for the running back. He seems to know what he’s doing in the run game, his hand placement and technique are about as good as it gets. Thrives on getting to the second level and he’s always looking to block downfield. However, Stanford’s offensive line is among the best in college football, mainly due to the superb coaching they’ve received over the years. There are no explosive athletes – including left tackle Jonathan Martin – this is a group that has grown together. I need to decide whether the sum is greater than the parts in terms of next level projection for both De Castro and Martin.
Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor)
The great wildcard of the 2012 draft so far. Griffin is intriguing in so many ways – the athletic potential, the deep ball accuracy and the incredible development he’s made from run-first quarterback in year one to accomplished passer as a fourth-year junior. He extends plays and keeps his eyes downfield, he’s got a decent if not perfect throwing motion, he’s got statistics to die for this year with very few turnovers in his career and he’s the very definition of a character guy (he comes across personable and funny but also hard working and a leader). Even so, something is holding me back from committing to a high grade. His footwork needs a major overhaul and it’s going to take time. His deep accuracy is a positive, but does it translate to the next level? A lofof his big plays have been simple down-the-field bombs with sound placement- often several times in a game. We don’t see that much of a downfield focus in the NFL, so if you take it away and ask Griffin to play a more clinical short passing game will he be able to move the ball? Part of me wants to promote him to the upper echelon of this draft class – especially given his extreme progression as a passer over the years. The other part of me wants to go back and watch his bowl game from last season when I gave him a late round grade at best. This is a tough one.
Dre Kirkpatrick (CB, Alabama)
I’ve seen a lot of Kirkpatrick, but I’m still trying to work out whether he justifies the hype. There’s a stigma around cornerbacks that size = good. Kirkpatrick is 6-2 and about 190lbs and he’s certainly very physical in run support and a sure tackler. However, cornerbacksmake their money in coverage and too often I’ve seen receivers coast past Kirkpatrick with no disruption at the LOS. He’s not been burnt as often as he should’ve been, there’s been a few missed chances in games over the last two seasons. The Florida game this year was a bit of an eye opener in that regard, when Kirkpatrick was at one stage being targeted by John Brantley. Is Kirkpatrick highly over rated due to his Nick Saban coaching and physical appearance? I’m leaning that way, but there’ll be plenty of opportunities to watch Alabama before the season’s end.
Players who won’t receive first round grades, but are worthy of attention
Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss)
Under rated quarterback prospect and the heart-beat of the Golden Eagles team. Southern Miss are ranked #23 on the coaches poll and #25 according to the AP – that achievement cannot be under estimated and it’s mainly down to the impact of their quarterback. Davis is a pure worker – he knew the areas he had to improve both physically and technically and he’s worked as hard as anyone to get there. He’s a clinical passer who makes very few bad decisions. He works within an offense that stresses the necessity to avoid turnovers (similar to the Seahawks), he’s enough of an athlete to make runs on the ground and extend plays. He’s added upper body muscle this year to improve his arm strength. Davis has a shot to make it and only a lack of national attention is keeping him under wraps.
Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State)
Busy defensive tackle who jumps off the screen and makes a number of splash plays. Few players will trouble the Boise State offensive like like Harrell did this year. He’s not the biggest lineman and that will limit his role at the next level, but he plays with a spark and he explodes off the snap. Hand use is above average and he finds ways to get into the backfield consistently. He could split roles between the three and five technique in the NFL and while he’ll never be a dominating force – Harrell will find a way to get attention. Also owns a world class moustache, which is a big plus.
Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall)
He’s having a great year with 10.5 sacks already, but where does he play at the next level? He’s not agile enough to consider switching to 3-4 OLB, but he’s not got the ideal size for a base 4-3 end. Curry isn’t an explosive speed rusher despite that lack of true size, but he’s surprisingly strong and his production over the last two seasons has been among the best in college football. He may still end up in the first round if he performs well enough at the combine to match the stats, but I suspect he’ll go after the top-32 and provide someone with a challenge – how to get the best out of this guy given his skill set.
Over rated players
Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina)
I’m still hesitant to commit to Coples as a first rounder, despite his near consensus approval ratings elsewhere. What position is he going to play at the next level? He’s not a good enough edge rusher to play 4-3 defensive end, he’s not big enough to kick inside as anything more than a third down rusher. I end up settling for the 3-4 orthodox five technique, but even then I’m not entirely convinced you’d want to make a big splash to get this guy on your team in that role. He’s off the field too much for my liking, including in key third down attempts. For the season he has 4.5 sacks – two of which came against James Madison in week one. If he’s a top-ten pick, I’ll be stunned.
Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)
Limited physical talent working to execute a small playbook in a high tempo offense. He doesn’t have an amazing arm, he’s very limited in terms of athleticism, he’s predictable and the production he’s having in college will not translate. In the NFL he’s not going to be able to rely on the same play call every week (the now notorious fade to Kenny Stills). A lot of his plays are scripted and he basically does what he’s told, in the NFL he’s going to be presented with multiple options and he’s going to have to improvise – something I’m not sure he’ll be able to do. He struggles against any kind of pressure – Jones’ can’t extend plays by moving out of the pocket and he surprisingly struggles to step up and buy extra time against even moderate edge pressure. I think he’ll be found out quickly in the pro’sand you’ll be left with a very mediocre quarterback.
Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame)
I still see Floyd cropping up among top-ten projections and I have to ask – why? This is a player who wasn’t considered a high pick last year as a junior and returned to Notre Dame largely because of a poor grade from the draft committee. Needing a strong year to boost his stock back into the first round – he was almost immediately cited for drink driving and suspended by the team. The production has been good this year (as it was in 2010) but the same problems exist – sloppy route running, too many body catches and he’s not an explosive deep threat. He’s a big receiver who may end up being a good #2, but compared to players like Dwight Jones he’s severely lacking the skills to be a top end receiver pick.