There has been a steady flow of college coaches headed to South Lafourche High School over the past few weeks. Tarpons standout offensive tackle Bailey Granier is the most heavily recruited football player from Lafourche Parish since Thibodaux High School star quarterback/ wide receiver Trovon Reed decided to leave the state to sign with Auburn a few years back.
The 6-6, 320-pound tackle, who I project will play guard in college, has scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida State, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Arizona, Houston, Central Florida and Vanderbilt, along with instate offers from Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette.
While Granier has visited LSU, he has not yet received a scholarship offer from the Tigers. In many ways Granier reminds me a lot of current LSU offensive guard Josh Williford. While Granier has gotten a lot of attention from national schools, another Tarpons player, linebacker Peyton Guidry, is also getting looks from instate schools and from those around the country.
I got a chance to watch the 6-1, 200-pound linebacker last season a few times, and I was impressed with his instincts, his speed to the football and his flow ability from sideline to sideline.
South Lafourche head coach Dennis Skains talked highly this spring about Guidry.
“He’s a guy that will catch your attention quickly,” Skains said. “He’s aggressive, real smart. He carries a 3.7 GPA, and he scored a 30 on the ACT, and there is little hesitation when making a move toward the ball carrier. He’s a very focused young man and plays hard every down. There is no doubt he can play at the next level, and he’s worked hard to improve his coverage skills and drops.” Guidry has gotten attention from Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana Tech and Princeton.
One very important New Orleans Saints defensive player to keep your eye on in 2013 is second-year defensive lineman Akiem Hicks. Hicks, who the Saints selected in the third round in 2012, had a baptism by fire last season, and while he showed his inexperience and a lack of good techniques at times, he also showed that athletically he is the most talented big man the Saints have along their defensive line.
Defensive end Cameron Jordan is not a gold chip NFL performer, but he is a good blue chip player. Jordan excels in stopping the run, but last season he displayed good pass-rush skills at times and the ability to close in fast on a quarterback.
For Hicks, if the light comes on for him like it did for Jordan in 2012, he has a chance to be a special defensive lineman. The 6-foot-5, 320-pound defensive lineman is being played across the board in Rob Ryan’s new defensive 3-4 format.
“They are preparing me for every spot up front,” Hicks said. “I’m working at defensive end, nose tackle and playing the 3-technique. I like playing defensive end. It gives me an opportunity to use my athleticism and my speed coming off the ball. To be honest I am really a power-type player, but I surprise people on how quick I am coming off the ball. It’s a lot of one-on-one stuff at defensive end. When you play inside you are taking on a lot of double-team blocking. It’s adjusting and seeing what is best for me to excel and what is best for the team. It doesn’t matter where they play me, I just want to compete and play.”
Hicks said he has worked hard to improve his pad level and upgrade his leverage skills this offseason.
“In this league everyone is big, strong and fast, and it is an old saying, but a true one that the low man wins in football,” he said. “I have a tendency to play a little too tall and that gives blockers a chance to get under my pads and move me around some. I have to learn how to stay low, and I have a great teacher in (Saints defensive line coach) Bill Johnson. It’s the same thing with leverage. When I was younger I wrestled a lot, and that taught me a lot about leverage, but this is a different kind of leverage. It’s a lot about using your hands better and turning and leveraging your body quickly to defeat your man.”
Last season the Saints saw Jordan develop into a very good starting defensive end and Hicks believes that he can make that move in 2013.
“Things are different defensively from a schematic standpoint, but Coach (Rob) Ryan likes to play aggressive football and you have to understand your assignments,” Hicks said. “That is the big key I see in this league, and that you have to understand the different sets and alignments and not get caught out of position. This is an aggressive game, and it’s not about read and react. It is all about recognize fast and react fast, if not you get beat. I thought I played pretty well at times last season, but I just wasn’t consistent. I really like what I see that we are doing defensively, and we all know that we need to rush the quarterback better and also get off the field better on third down. When you have an offense like what we have and Drew Brees in control it is not about making big defensive plays all the time, and that would be great if we did, but it is about slowing down your opponent and then giving our offense a chance to get back on the field too. Really what gets a crowd excited, especially the “Who Dat Nation” pumped up loud, is making a big play on defense. We want that too and we want to get them revved up for our unit like they get excited for our offense.”
There are two key elements for the Saints defense to get better in 2013. The first is a consistent edge pass rush from free agent outside linebacker Victor Butler and matching up better down field in coverage with tight ends. That part of the equation has to come from 2013 first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro from the University of Texas.
The third piece of the puzzle is the continual development of Hicks along the defensive line, most likely at defensive end.
Hicks not only has a chance to be a good NFL player, but a special one for a team that desperately needs a big-time performer up front defensively. Like tight end Jimmy Graham did for the Saints in his second season, the boys in black and gold are hoping Hicks becomes that sort of player on defense.
If the New Orleans Saints can get some pressure from the likes of Hicks, Jordan, Butler and Junior Galette or Martez Wilson, it will relieve what was a troubling spot on the team in 2012.
Last season the Saints allowed opposing quarterbacks a passing rating of 93.8. That was the fifth worst figure in the NFL behind the Kansas City Chiefs (99.9), the Philadelphia Eagles (99.6), the Oakland Raiders (97.5) and the Dallas Cowboys (94.7).
Of those five teams, only the Eagles finished overall defensively in the top half of the league, and they finished 15th overall. The Saints finished 32nd overall defensively in 2012. Not one of those five teams posted a winning record or made the playoffs last season. One thing defensively you will see more of out of the 2013 Saints under Ryan is more press-coverage schemes. Last season the Saints under Steve Spagnuolo played a lot more off-cover schemes than we had ever seen when Gregg Williams was in charge of the defense. But this season under Rob Ryan, whose dad Buddy Ryan was a mentor for both Williams and Rob Ryan, the Saints will go back to more press-cover schemes.
Former Saints safety Brett Maxie, now the secondary coach with the Tennessee Titans, said that the press-cover method dictates to the receiver what type of route he can run.
“If you play off a receiver, then you have to cover or react to every type of pass route,” Maxie said. “If you play press coverage that gives the cornerback an opportunity to get closer to the receiver and limit his overall route running tree. Now you are dictating to the receiver what he can do, but on the negative side, when you play a lot of press-cover schemes there are certain risks that you take and it heightens the chance of giving up the big play if you fail to execute well. Defensive backs get flagged more in press-cover situations and your margin of error on the deep routes down field is magnified. But what’s worse, having a quarterback pick you apart with the underneath stuff on the short passes or give up the big play over the top? You have to mix and match some, but you have to limit the short game today. You have to be able to take away some aspect of that because the way the rules are today and the quality of quarterbacks we have in this league they will eat you up if you consistently play off a receiver.”
Last season the Titans gave up a passer rating of 92.7 per game — the seventh-worst in the NFL, and they also had a losing record.
On Thursday, the New Orleans Saints announced that they had signed defensive tackle Isaako (e-saw-AH-co) AAitui (ah-ah-2-e) to a free agent contract.
The former UNLV defensive tackle had previously played for both the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
My former WWL-870 radio colleague Buddy Diliberto, who had trouble with Mitsubishi and Donte Stallworth (or as Buddy would say Stallpepper), would have really butchered up the name of this signee.
Buddy, I thought about you instantly when they made that signing. I know somewhere looking down on us from above, Buddy D. is having a really good laugh about this.
As players hit 30 years of age or older, which doesn't apply to quarterbacks, the money they made in their 20's is not nearly the same.
We have all seen veteran players, like Saints defensive end Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, take substantial pay cuts to stay with their respective teams.
This offseason, many veteran players saw the free agent money dry up fast, and once you hit that certain age threshold for a player, it is a substantial pay reduction.
But on Friday, former Indianapolis Colts defensive end/outside linebacker Dwight Freeney had patience pay off for him. One of the league's premier pass rushers agreed to a two-year contract with the San Diego Chargers that carries a base value of $8.75 million.
The 33-year old Freeney, who has recorded 107 1/2 quarterback sacks since entering the league in 2002, has a contract with the Chargers that carries a maximum value of $13.35 million, with $4.6 million tied exclusively to sacks.
In late March, 34-year old Ed Reed, who will go down as one of — if not the — greatest free safety of all-time, left the Baltimore Ravens and signed a 3-year contract worth $15 million dollars and $5 million was guaranteed with the Houston Texans.
Now Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson waits for a big money offer to come his way.
This is the time of year in Las Vegas where you can get odds on just about anything concerning the NFL and college football.
While many scoff at the oddsmakers in Las Vegas, they aren't building those really nice casinos because they lose money.
They have the best oddsmakers in the sporting world working for them and it is interesting to see them post their latest odds for teams to win Super Bowl XLVIII.
The favorite to win Super Bowl XLVIII is the San Francisco 49ers at 6/1. The 49ers are followed by the Denver Broncos at 15/2, the New England Patriots 8/1, the Seattle Seahawks 9/1, the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers 12/1, the Houston Texans 18/1, along with the New Orleans Saints at 18/1.
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are 20/1, along with the New York Giants.
One wager that really caught my eye was the over/under on sacks in 2013 for some of the top rookie pass rushers.
Detroit Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah total to wager on for sacks in 2013 is 4 1/2.
Former LSU standout and now Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo's number is 3.
Former Georgia All-SEC and All-American outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was selected one pick later than the New Orleans Saints picked Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro by the Pittsburgh Steelers, his number is 8.
Since the mid-2000's, the Southeastern Conference has become the premier league in college football.
From Alabama to Auburn to LSU and Florida, the BCS national champions have come from the SEC over the past few seasons.
From week to week, no conference plays defense or produces as many NFL caliber players like the SEC.
Over the past five seasons, the University of Southern California has produced the most NFL players drafted into the league.
Despite suffering the sting of an NCAA investigation, mainly centered around former USC and New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush, and the strict penalties following the investigation, the Trojans have produced 34 draft choices to the NFL over the past five seasons. Six of those players were first round selections.
The Trojans have produced seven players over the past two drafts.
Alabama, LSU and Georgia each had more than seven players picked in this year's NFL draft.
But with a reduction of scholarships and a poor selection of a head coach in Lane Kiffin, the Trojans will soon be passed by the SEC's top programs.
Over the past five seasons, Nick Saban and Alabama have produced 33 players drafted into the NFL, including 14 first-round picks in that frame.
Those first-round selections from Alabama are cornerback Dee Milliner, offensive guard Chance Warmack, offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, halfback Trent Richardson, safety Mark Barron, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, linebacker Dont'a Hightower, defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, wide receiver Julio Jones, offensive guard James Carpenter, halfback Mark Ingram, linebacker Rolando McClain, cornerback Kareem Jackson and offensive tackle Andre Smith.
Before Saban landed in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide's last first-round picks were in 2000 with offensive tackle Chris Samuels and halfback Shaun Alexander.
And it would take 24 years of previous drafts (1985-2008) for Alabama to tie Saban's mark of 14 first round draft choices in five years.
Over the past five seasons, Les Miles and LSU have produced 32 draft choices to the NFL and six of them were first-round picks.
Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, safety Eric Reid, cornerback Morris Claiborne, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, cornerback Patrick Peterson and defensive end Tyson Jackson were all selected in the opening round of the draft. All six of LSU's first-round picks were defensive players.
There are various opinions on Miles' coaching expertise, but you can't argue that he has done a very good job filling in the huge moccasins left over by Saban at LSU and the Tigers have emerged, like Alabama, as one of the college football's marquee name schools.
It is never easy to walk in someone's shadow and follow a program-builder like Saban was at LSU, but say what you will, Miles has done a very good job attracting talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball. His staff has done a very good job developing that talent defensively.
But Saban also left his mark at LSU from 2004-2008. During his tenure in Baton Rouge, the Tigers had 29 players drafted and eight first-round selections.
Last month, LSU set a new record by having nine players drafted and an additional seven other players signed free agent contracts, but Miles and his staff could again be a huge talent vein to the NFL in 2014.
Seven senior players — halfback Alfred Blue, quarterback Zach Mettenberger, fullback J.C. Copeland, offensive guard Josh Williford, outside linebacker Tahj Jones, outside/middle linebacker Lamin Barrow and safety Craig Loston — all have the potential to get selected in the 2014 NFL draft.
And if you throw in highly-rated junior eligible players like defensive tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, offensive tackle La'el Collins, halfbacks Jeremy Hill and Kenny Hilliard and wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, the Tigers could break this year's mark of the most draft choices in one season.
Georgia has tied LSU with 32 players that were drafted by the NFL in that five-year frame, and the Bulldogs have produced five first-round pick selections. While Saban and Miles have battled it out for the SEC championships and for the best recruits in the Deep South over the last few seasons, they both have had to defeat Georgia to get to the national championship game. Georgia coach Mark Richt has become college football's version of Marty Schottenheimer. Richt has posted a 46-21 record the past five seasons at Georgia, but he hasn't been able to get his team to college football's championship game.
But Richt and his staff have done a very good job recruiting the football talent rich state of Georgia.
From 2009-2013, the three SEC juggernaut schools have produced 97 players to the NFL.
In a conference that is loaded with great coaches and a tremendous amount of football talent, Alabama, LSU and Georgia have been the kings of producing NFL talent, but with Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and an emerging Ole Miss following close behind, the pressure to win and recruit the best talent in the land will again lay in the hands of Saban, Miles and Richt.
If there is one element that New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have worked on the most this offseason, it's to be a more physical football team.
Numerous times Payton has said that he wants to emphasize the running game this season, and in reading between the lines, he wants 2011 first-round pick halfback Mark Ingram to be the workhorse runner on this team.
In 2011 with Payton in charge of the offense, the Saints ranked sixth in rushing with for 2,127 yards on 431 carries (4.9 yards per carry average).
Those carries balanced the scales on Drew Brees' record-setting season, as he threw 662 passes.
Without Payton in 2012, the Saints resembled a pro version of Brigham Young, rushing for only 1,577 yards on 370 carries (4.3 yards per carry average).
Too much of the Saints offense was put on the shoulders of Brees, as he passed the ball 671 times.
Many will say it was because of the Saints bad defense that caused them to fall behind early in games, but no NFL team rushed the ball less than the Saints in the first half of games. It was not all because they were playing from behind.
The addition of veteran tight end Ben Watson means you will see a lot of two tight-end sets along with Jimmy Graham, and that will cause problems defensively for teams trying to match up downfield coverage wise. But it also means the Saints will have another big body to aid the running game.
The element of being a more physical team will be noted early on, and watch and see the Saints try to become more balanced like in 2011 and a more physical than what we saw in 2012.
Defensively, Ryan is all about multiple set looks and trying to give quarterbacks a different view of where defenders will rush them. He also believes wholeheartedly in being a physical team.
Like his dad, Buddy Ryan, who orchestrated some of the most physical defensive teams with the Chicago Bears in the 1980s and the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 1990s, Rob Ryan wants to play this game all-out. You won't see a lot of this read and react style preached by Steve Spagnuolo last season.
The offseason moves put great emphasis on getting bigger and more physical defensively.
Cornerback Keenan Lewis fits the mold of what Ryan wants on defense. The 6-foot-0 ¼, 210-pound cornerback has good size, long arms, good ball-reaction skills and is physical in run support.
Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro — the Saints first-round pick — also fits that mold. He reminds me of former LSU and All-Pro safety LaRon Landry, now with the Indianapolis Colts.
Vaccaro comes up the field in a flash in run support and is a physical player in run support. He is also a physical player in coverage and is an intimidator when receivers come over the middle.
The Saints' third-round pick John Jenkins of Georgia is a massive 6-4, 350-pound noseguard known for his great bulk strength and his ability to tie up multiple blockers upfront.
Sixth-round choice, outside linebacker Rufus Johnson from Tarleton State, is highly regarded by his coaches in college as being not only a good pass rusher at defensive end, but someone known for his physical play and his violent hand use.
And all eyes will be on former Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Victor Butler, who the Saints signed in free agency. He was a major reason why they passed on Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones in the first round.
Former LSU and Dallas defensive tackle Marcus Spears said while Butler displayed good pass rush skills in Dallas, he was also a physical player.
"Victor was playing behind Anthony Spencer and we had DeMarcus Ware on the other side, so he didn't get a lot of opportunities," Spears said. "When he did, he showed he can get off the snap quick and get that needed pressure from off the corner. But one thing he always showed when he got his chance and on special teams too was that he was physical and he was all-out on every play. Rob (Ryan) liked that a lot about him. Victor just had no quit in his game. I am pulling hard for him to succeed other than when he plays the Cowboys, but that is one thing New Orleans had under Gregg Williams and will have under Rob Ryan and that you will get a lot of looks and you are going to be a very physical team. If not, you are not going to play for Rob."
When looking at the Saints undrafted free agents, three in particular stick out — Nebraska outside linebacker Eric Martin, Stanford outside linebacker Chase Thomas and North Carolina inside linebacker Kevin Reddick. The words used to describe their games are smart, instinctive, playmakers on defense and physical.
When Reddick announced he had signed with the Saints, he was not coy about the style of play he was bringing to New Orleans.
"I am all about being physical," Reddick said. "I am all about aggressive play, and I want the ballcarrier to know I will be out here for 60 minutes bringing it to him. I have something to prove to everyone why they should have drafted me. There is not going to be any tapping on the breaks on my part. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain."
While the Saints will certainly have more focus and accountability with Payton's return, the one thing this offseason has brought to light is that they want to be more physical on both sides of the ball.
HAWKINS GETS A SHOT
Former Southern University and St. Augustine High standout wide receiver/return specialist Charles Hawkins is one of the number of players this weekend trying to impress the Saints coaching staff in hopes of getting an invitation to training camp.
Hawkins, ranked 32nd in my draft amongst wide receivers, went undrafted in April, but he is excited for the opportunity to work out for his hometown team.
"I was disappointed like a lot of guys were, but there are a lot of players in this league that didn't get picked," Hawkins said. "I look at Lance Moore and Wes Welker, and they made it in this league. I just want a fair chance, and the Saints scouts knew about me. I had a hamstring injury as a senior, but when given my shot out on the field, I made the most of it. I am totally focused on doing whatever I have to do to play in this league."
The 5-8 ¼, 175-pound speedster ran a (4.33) 40-yard dash time at Southern in early April after catching 31 passes for 467 yards and seven scores in 2012. He also returned 12 kickoffs for an average of 25.8 yards per return.
"I really like what the Saints do offensively in concentrating more on the short to middle areas of the field," Hawkins said. "Everyone thinks because of my speed I am just a deep threat guy, but what I do best is catch the short pass and make people miss in space due to my quickness and agility. It would be great to play with Drew Brees, and I have worked out with guys like Devery Henderson, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and LaRon Byrd at Sonic Boom in Harahan. I try to pick their brains a bit on route running, how to properly set up defenders and sharpening up my route running skills. I am catching the ball better out front with my hands, and I have big hands, so I am working hard to not let the ball not get too close to my body. Everyday as an athlete it is a challenge, and I approach this opportunity with the Saints that way."
Hawkins, who goes by the nickname "Jitter-Bug," has some strong football bloodlines. His dad, Charles III, was a former standout football player at McDonough 35 High, and his cousin is Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Former Saints quarterback and now WWL-870 Radio sports commentator Bobby Hebert made a comment, on his son, Beaux, being the starting quarterback at Nicholls State University.
"Watching the scrimmage, that was the best I have ever seen Beaux throw the football," Bobby Hebert said. "He's healthy now from the shoulder surgery, and he had good accuracy with his receivers on the downfield throws. He has a quick release, and he can move around in the pocket some. He sees the field so much better now due to his experience and actually he is taller than I am. I was lucky at Northwestern State, and I played with Mark Duper and Joe Delaney. Now both those guys were just not great college players, but All-Pro players in the NFL. As a quarterback, you want to help create plays, but there is a fine line between making something happen and forcing something. That is the best advice I give Beaux and that is to know the playbook inside and out and also to do all the extra work in the offseason with your receivers. They got some pretty good receivers and tight ends on the roster, along with Marcus Washington at running back. People think because he is my son that he played a lot of football, but really Beaux's first love was basketball. He only started one season at Greater Atlanta Christian High School at quarterback, but he's focused on being the best at football. I like the system Coach (Charlie) Stubbs is trying to piece together offensively at Nicholls."
1. Jadeveon Clowney — Defensive End — South Carolina
My highest ranked defensive end prospect since Bruce Smith came out of Virginia Tech in 1985. Clowney's defensive playmaking skills are off the charts and the 6-5 ½, 270 pounder has great edge speed and closing skills to the ballcarrier. Despite constant double-team blocking he recorded 54 tackles, 23 ½ tackles for losses, 3 forced fumbles and 13 quarterback sacks in 2012.
2. Teddy Bridgewater — Quarterback —Louisville
Bridgewater is a tremendous overall athlete who has excellent size, a strong arm and he has 1st rate accuracy skills in the pocket. His ability to move around outside the pocket is outstanding and he buys extra time for his receivers to get open downfield. The 6-3, 220-pounder completed 66.9% of his passes in 2012, he threw for 5,847 yards and 41 touchdowns.
3. Tajh Boyd — Quarterback — Clemson
Boyd reminds me in so many ways of former Tennessee Titans QB. Steve McNair. The Clemson standout passer is one tough dude hanging in the pocket until the last second to make a throw, he throws accurately from the pocket, he has excellent mobility skills and he is dangerous running with the ball. He completed 67.2% of his passes in 2012. Boyd passed for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns as a junior. He would have been the first QB. off the 2013 NFL draft board, had he decided to come out early.
4. Marqise Lee — Wide Receiver — USC
The 2012 Fred Biletnikoff Award winner caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 scores for the Trojans. The 6-0, 200 pound Lee has very sure hands, great foot speed and explosive openfield moves. Lee is not only a gold chip "stretch" receiver, but he also excels in the return game averaging 28.5 yards per runback on kickoff returns.
5. Jake Matthews — Offensive Tackle — Texas A&M
Jake has some strong football genes in him being the son of former Houston Oilers NFL Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews. The 6-5, 305 pounder is a very good technician, he is a strong in-line run blocker and a very good pass protector. Has started for the Aggies since midway into his freshman season. This season he plays left tackle for the Aggies.
6. Taylor Lewan — Offensive Tackle — Michigan
Lewan is tough, strong, a mauler as a run blocker and his size and length makes him a very good pass protector. The 6-7, 310 pounder has 35 starts at left tackle for the Wolverines and he moves his feet so smoothly for a big man. He has skills in the same area code as another former Wolverine standout in former Miami Dolphins and current St. Louis Rams left tackle Jake Long.
7. Sammy Watkins — Wide Receiver — Clemson
The former prep track star put up great numbers as a freshman totaling 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 scores, but DeAndre Hopkins became the "go-to" wide receiver in 2012. Watkins now becomes the #1 receiver for the Tigers in 2013 and will better his 57 catch, 708 yards and 3 touchdown totals of 2012. This young man can really stretch the deep areas of the field, but he needs to refine his short to medium pass catching area of the game in 2013.
8. Anthony Barr — Outside Linebacker — UCLA
Former running back who displayed tremendous openfield running skills and defensive trackdown instincts in 2012. Barr recorded 83 tackles, 21 ½ tackles for losses and 13 ½ QB. sacks at outside linebacker for the Bruins. Anthony's dad, Tony Brooks, and 3 uncles all played in the NFL.
9. Austin Seferian-Jenkins — Tight End — Washington
Jenkins is the most dangerous pass catching tight end in college football. His 6-6, 260 pound frame and outstanding eye-hand coordination makes him a huge threat in the short to medium range areas of the field and he has the speed to stretch the deep middle. An April DUI charge will not scare away NFL teams from falling in love with his tremendous football talent.
10. Cyrus Kouandjio — Offensive Tackle — Alabama
The former Parade Magazine All-American has quickly developed into one of the premier left tackles in college football. Cyrus is a quick-footed tackle, who knows how to use his arms and hands well in pass protection sets and he is a power-packed run blocker. Kouandjio is a very athletic and flexible 6-5 ½, 310 pounder.
11. De'Anthony Thomas — Halfback/Wide Receiver/Return Man — Oregon Thomas will be the 2013 version of what Tavon Austin brought to the table for West Virginia in 2012. Thomas has world-class sprinter's speed and he is so difficult to bring down in one-on-one situations out on the field. Last season Thomas rushed for 701 yards and averaged 7.6 yards per carry, he caught 45 passes for 445 yards and 5 scores, and the 5-9, 180 pounder averaged 17.1 yards per return as a punt returner and 24.3 yards per runback as a kickoff returner.
12. Brett Hundley — Quarterback — UCLA
Hundley has only started one season for the Bruins, but the 6-3, 225 pound strong-armed QB. really impressed me with his accuracy throwing from the pocket and his ability to find the correct open receiver downfield in his first season as a starter. Brett completed 66.5% of his throws for 3,740 yards, 29 TD's and only 9 pass interceptions in 2012. Keep an eye on the development of Hundley in 2013 and he could vault up into the top-5 of this list quickly.
13. Johnny Manziel — Quarterback — Texas A&M
"Johnny Football" made quite an impact in his first season playing college football in 2012. The redshirt freshman won the Heisman Trophy and he looked so much like a younger version of what I saw in Steve Young when he was at Brigham Young. The 6-0 ½, 200 pounder completed 68% of his passes in 2012. He also threw for 3,706 yards, 26 touchdowns and 9 pass interceptions going up against the toughest competition college football can offer in the SEC. His foot speed and running skills made him quite a threat as he compiled 1,410 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. What impressed me the most was his quick release and accuracy skills throwing from the pocket.
14. Kyle Van Noy — Outside Linebacker — Brigham Young
Ezekiel Ansah got most of the attention last season due to his great athleticism and his journey into football, but the best defensive player on the Cougar team was Van Noy. The former prep wide receiver and track sprinter racked up 53 tackles, a team-leading 22 tackles for losses, 13 QB. sacks and he forced 6 fumbles. Van Noy is quite a threat coming off the edge and he has developed a very strong array of moves and countermoves to get away from potential blockers.
15. Stephon Tuitt — Defensive End — Notre Dame
Tutt is a big defensive end measuring in at 6-5 ½, and 305 pounds and he is perfect for a 3-4 alignment defense. But what stands out is his ability to push the pocket either off the edge or inside. Tuitt racked up 41 tackles, 13 tackles for losses and 12 QB. sacks last season for the Irish.
16. C.J. Mosley — Outside Linebacker — Alabama
Mosley is another one of the top linebacker produced by the Tide under Nick Saban. At 6-2, 235 pounds Mosley has the size to be physical in run defense and he also has the speed and quickness to drop back smoothly into his pass coverage drops. C.J. recorded a team-leading 99 tackles, 7 tackles for losses, 4 QB. sacks and 2 pass interceptions in 2012.
17. Antonio Richardson — Offensive Tackle — Tennessee
The 6-6, 320 pound offensive lineman was so impressive that the Volunteers moved senior offensive tackle Dallas Thomas to guard in 2012 so Antonio could play left tackle. Richardson has great size, quick feet and he has developed very good pass blocking techniques. His explosive qualities off the snap make him quite a run blocker also.
18. Bradley Roby — Cornerback — Ohio State
Roby, a former three sport standout in high school (football, basketball and track), has developed into one of the top one-on-one cover cornerbacks in the nation. Roby recorded 17 pass break-ups in 2012 and he also had 2 pass interceptions. Underrated as a run defender and the 5-11, 195 pounder recorded 63 tackles in 2012.
19. Donte Moncrief — Wide Receiver — Ole Miss
Moncrief has excellent size (6-2 1/2, 215), tremendous deep speed and 1st rate eye-hand coordination. Donte caught 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. This very physical and fast wide receiver will be a very well known football talent by the end of the 2013 season.
20. Jason Verrett — Cornerback — TCU
Verrett was considered one of the elite junior college defensive players when he came out of Santa Rosa Junior College. His transition to one of the toughest defenses in college football was quick. The 5-10, 180 pound cornerback excelled in man-coverage sets and he recorded 16 pass break-ups and 6 pass interceptions. Verrett also is fierce in run support and he registered 63 tackles. NFL scouts will really get excited to see his ballhawking skills and his recovery speed out on the field.
21. La'el Collins — Offensive Tackle — LSU
Collins was considered the top offensive tackle prospect in the Deep South when he came out of Redemptorist High School in Baton Rouge. The 6-5, 320 pound roadgrader excelled at guard in his first two seasons at LSU, but he has now been moved to the left tackle spot. Collins is the best offensive line prospect to don the purple and gold since Andrew Whitworth. His great size, long arms and quick feet will make him a top offensive tackle prospect for 2014.
22. Anthony Johnson — Defensive Tackle — LSU
"The Freak" was considered the best defensive tackle in the country when he came out of O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans. The 6-3, 295 pound tackle has played in the shadow of Brockers, Montgomery, Mingo and Logan the past two seasons at LSU, but it is now time for Johnson to turn potential into production for the Tigers. Anthony is cat-quick for a big man, he has excellent inside penetration skills and he is now starting to us his arms and hands properly to get off blockers in a quicker manner.
23. Louis Nix III — Defensive Tackle — Notre Dame
At 6-2 ½ and 325 pounds Nix knows how to clog up the inside rushing lanes and he is also noted for his ability to push the inside pocket. Last season the mammoth noseguard racked up 50 tackles, 7 1/2 tackles for losses, 2 QB. sacks and 3 pass deflections. Manti Te'o got a lot of free runs to the ballcarrier due to Nix's ability to tie-up multiple blockers.
24. Will Sutton — Defensive Tackle — Arizona State
Sutton is not that big space-eater in the middle at 6-1 and 290 pounds, but he excels at pushing the inside pocket and he is a very good interior pass rusher. Sutton racked up 23 ½ tackles for losses and 13 QB. sacks in 2012 and he was the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Sutton’s quick upfield movement skills and his outstanding hand usage remind me a lot of Cincinnati Bengals DT. Geno Atkins.
25. A.J. McCarron — Quarterback — Alabama
McCarron is smart, he can make all the throws downfield, he is very accurate throwing from the pocket and he has good mobility skills to buy time and escape a heavy rush. You have to love A.J.'s late game heroics and his ability to play big in big games. He played in a different style offense at BC, but in many ways McCarron reminds me of Atlanta Falcons QB. Matt Ryan.
26. Larry Webster — Defensive End — Bloomsburg State
The 6-6 ½, 250 pound former basketball standout made quite an impact in his first season playing football in 2012. The son of former NFL defensive lineman Larry Webster, was in on 15 tackles for losses and 13 ½ quarterback sacks playing football for the first time since high school. While he is still rough around the edges as a technician Webster has excellent size, a huge wingspan to throw over and he has natural pass rush instincts.
27. Adrian Hubbard — Outside Linebacker — Alabama
Hubbard is another long, real lean pass rusher with tremendous athletic ability from Alabama. The 6-5, 250 pound strongside linebacker specializes in rushing the QB. and he totaled 10 tackles for losses, 6 quarterback sacks and 3 forced fumbles in 2012. Adrian needs some work on his pass coverage skills, but he has outstanding athletic gifts and he can run the field like a much smaller player.
28. Jordan Matthews — Wide Receiver — Vanderbilt
Matthews, a former prep basketball standout, has developed into one of college football’s top pass receiving threats. At 6-3, 212 pounds Matthews has excellent size, strong hands, very good route running skills and he makes big plays after the catch. Jordan has caught 135 passes for 2,101 yards and 13 scores the past two seasons at Vanderbilt. He is the cousin of the greatest wide receiver to ever put on a jockstrap and a helmet in Jerry Rice.
29. Ryan Shazier — Outside Linebacker — Ohio State
Shazier has been quite a force on one of the top defenses in college football. The speedy 6-2, 225 pound weakside linebacker recorded a team-leading 115 tackles, 17 tackles for losses and 5 QB. sacks in 2012. He also excelled in man coverage spots and Ryan registered 11 pass break-ups for the Buckeyes last season. His quick moves to the ballcarrier and outstanding football instincts make him quite an outside linebacker prospect for the 2014 NFL draft.
30. Jackson Jeffcoat — Defensive End — Texas
Jackson, the son of former NFL defensive lineman Jim Jeffcoat, who played with the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills, has been a major edge force for the Longhorns. At 6-5, 250 pounds Jackson has a long, very lean build and an explosive initial surge up the field. He has recorded 32 tackles for losses and 12 quarterback sacks the past two seasons despite missing 7 games in 2012 due to a ruptured right pectoral muscle. If he medically tests out OK and can stay healthy in 2013 look for a big season out of Jeffcoat. His best position in the NFL may well be as a standup outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.
31. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu — Cornerback — Oregon
Olumu lacks great size (5-9 ½, 190), but he has quietly developed into one of the top cover cornerbacks in college football. Ife has excellent ball reaction instincts and closing speed to the football. Last season Ifo recorded 20 pass deflections, 4 pass interceptions and he forced 6 fumbles. For a smaller cornerback Olumu will also come up quickly in run support and he is a solid openfield tackler.
32. Brandon Coleman Wide Receiver — Rutgers
At 6-5 and 220 pounds Coleman was a standout basketball star in high school and he has put those skills to great use out on the football field. The sure-handed Coleman gives defenders nightmares trying to guard him in one-on-one situations and he can make the tough catch outside his body radius. Coleman caught 43 passes for 718 yards, averaged 16.7 yards per catch and scored 10 TD's in 2012.
Later in the week (33-64) on my list of top players for the 2014 NFL Draft