New Orleans-based Fox Sports reporter Jennifer Hale just finished up her fourth season as a sideline reporter for Fox Sports. Hale made the transition from news to sports in 2011 for Fox-8 in New Orleans and also nationally with the Fox Network, and in short time she has become one of the elite female sports reporters in the country.
Jen is also the sideline reporter for the New Orleans Pelicans and she took some time off of her busy schedule to give her comments on the best offensive and defensive players she has witnessed in 2014.
"The best offensive player I covered this year is hands down Aaron Rodgers with the Packers, " Hale said. "Not only is he unbelievably accurate even deep down the field, but he is also a great leader for his team and they rally around him. He fought through some adversity late, like the ankle/calf injury and he sustained that injury in the game I covered against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Just a true competitor. What sticks out about him is that in the game today with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, certainly Drew Brees and Joe Flacco they are pocket-style quarterbacks, but with Rodgers it is his ability to maneuver around the pocket so well and throw off the run with great accuracy. He is a pocket style passer, but he also throws the ball so well on the move and it is amazing. He extends plays and his receivers like Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams make so many big plays downfield due to his improvisational skills."
"On defense no question it is J.J. Watt with the Houston Texans. I can't imagine him not winning the Defensive Player of the Year award with everything he has done this season. It certainly was a historic season for him because this season he became the only player in NFL history to record 20 or more quarterback sacks in separate seasons. He's exciting to watch and on both sides of the ball. He has scored this season in virtually every way from causing a safety, running back an interception and he showed off some of his skills earlier in his football career as a tight end by catching a touchdown pass."
Mike D's Top 35 Picks for the 2015 NFL Draft- October version
sponsored by @thibodauxreg.
1. Leonard Williams- Defensive Tackle USC
2. Andrus Peat- Offensive Tackle Stanford
3. Brandon Scherff- Offensive Tackle Iowa
4. Randy Gregory-Defensive End Nebraska
5. Marcus Mariota-Quarterback Oregon
6. Amari Cooper-Wide Receiver Alabama
7. Cedric Ogbuehi- Offensive Tackle Texas A&M
8. Vic Beasley-Outside Linebacker Clemson
9. Marcus Peters- Cornerback Washington
10. Dante Fowler, Jr.-Outside Linebacker Florida
11. Shilique Calhoun- Defensive End Michigan State
12. Shawn Oakman- Defensive End Baylor
13. Connor Cook- Quarterback Michigan State
14. Trae Waynes- Cornerback Michigan State
15. Landon Collins- Strong Safety Alabama
16. Todd Gurley- Halfback Georgia
17. Shaq Thompson- Outside Linebacker Washington
18. Leonard Floyd- Outside Linebacker Georgia
19. Jalen Strong- Wide Receiver Arizona State
20. Ereck Flowers- Offensive Tackle Miami (Fla.)
21. Ty Montgomery- Wide Receiver Stanford
22. Devil Funchess- Wide Receiver/Tight End Michigan
23. Melvin Gordon- Halfback Wisconsin
24. P.J. Williams-Cornerback Florida State
25. Benardrick McKinney- Inside Linebacker Mississippi State
26. Shane Ray- Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Missouri
27. Spencer Drango- Offensive Tackle Baylor
28. Sammie Coates- Wide Receiver Auburn
29. Kevin White- Wide Receiver West Virginia
30. La'el Collins- Offensive Tackle LSU
31. Alvin Dupree- Defensive End Kentucky
32. Dak Prescott- Quarterback Mississippi State
33. Arik Armstead- Defensive End Oregon
34. A.J. Cann- Offensive Guard South Carolina
35. D'haquille Williams- Wide Receiver Auburn
Thibodaux Regional Medical Center....
Wellness Center of Thibodaux Regional
Focusing on the health and wellness through prevention, education, fitness and treatment, the Wellness Center of Thibodaux Regional will be the home of "Centers of Excellence."
1. It's Falcons/Saints Week.
Since 2006 when Sean Payton took over as head coach the Saints have sported a 13-3 win/loss mark against Atlanta and Payton-coached teams (2012 not included) have gone 12-2 against the Falcons.
In Atlanta the Saints are 6-2 since 2006 and Payton has sported a 6-1 win/loss record in the ATL.
These games have normally been close, but the Saints have owned the Falcons since 2006 and it didn't matter where they played.
2. Road Record
Saints fans hear it from local and national media types that the team is not a good regular season "road" team. That statement is not based on facts.
The Saints have not done well on the road at playoff time, only one road win against the Philadelphia Eagles following the 2013 regular season, but in fact since 2009 the Saints have gone 24-16.
They are tied with the New England Patriots (24-16) for the best road record in the NFL since 2009 and the Green Bay Packers are third with a mark of 23-17.
The Saints were 3-5 last season on the road, but they are in fact and have been a very good regular season "road" team.
Mike D's10 Weekly Observations......
Sponsored by Thibodaux Regional Medical Center
1. Every "Who Dat Nation" member wants to see, even though it is just preseason, the best player to ever wear the black and gold in quarterback Drew Brees connect to 2014 1st round pick Brandin Cooks.
Brees is still one of the elite players in the game today and you are looking at a future superstar and the next "Steve Smith" in wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
2. Free Safety Jairus Byrd is something special....
Despite missing a host of time on the field in the OTA's and training camp due to recovery from off-season back surgery Byrd stood out so much once he hit the practice field for the first time this week.
He made a play on a pass over the middle that Saints QB. Ryan Griffin looked one way and threw to the other side of the field and Byrd took an angle to the ball that you rarely see, and broke up the would-be completion.
Byrd is a special player and you can clearly see why the Saints paid what they did to get him and why he has intercepted 22 interceptions over the past 5 seasons.
Kenny Vaccaro/Jairus Byrd.. best safety tandem east of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor/Seattle.
3. The Saints OL. is much improved......
Last season the Saints Offensive Line gave up more QB. sacks and Drew Brees got hit more than any other time in his career in New Orleans.
The Saints O-Line playing without Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans in the starting lineup early on in the preseason has given up just one QB. sack in 82 passing plays. Kudos to Terron Armstead, Zach Strief, Tim Lelito, Jonathan Goodwin, Bryce Harper, Marcel Jones, Thomas Welch, Jason Weaver and Senio Kelemete..
They have done well to protect Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown.
4. The Most Important Player on D.
Right now due to health, depth and age issues on defense the most important player defensively for the New Orleans Saints is cornerback Keenan Lewis. It would be a Mount Everest dropoff in cornerback play if Lewis were to miss playing time for an extended period.
With injuries to Patrick Robinson, injury/Father Time issue with Champ Bailey, Stanley Jean Baptiste in the learning stages.... cornerback is a real concern from a starting and depth issue standpoint.
Corey White is really an inside nickel cornerback in the NFL, but he may be forced into the starting lineup.
No debate with depth and talent issues .... Keenan Lewis-a player on the verge of Pro Bowl status- and is the most important player today on the Saints roster on defense.
5. The 4...
There are 4 players, inside linebackers Ramon Humber and Kevin Reddick, tight end Josh Hill and the biggest surprise of the OTA's, training camp and 2 preseason games in weakside linebacker Kyle Knox, that are in the lineup for all special team units. Bet the House they all make the 53-man squad.
6. Want to see the Heat
I really want to take a good look at the pressure the Saints front seven put on Indy QB. Andrew Luck. The 3rd preseason game is the dress rehearsal to an extent and while the Colts do have some signature players like T. Y. Hilton, a healthy Reggie Wayne, TE's Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, OLB. Robert Mathis, CB. Vernon Davis and S. LaRon Landry, their overall talent is slightly above average.
Andrew Luck is a superstar in the making.
If given a NFL expansion team today. Luck is my choice to start a team from scratch.
Interesting to see how the Saints get pressure on Luck.
7. When the 53-man roster is set I really believe the Saints keep 5 safeties.
Kenny Vaccaro, Jairus Byrd, Rafael Bush, Marcus Ball and Vinnie Sunseri, all make the final 53-man roster.
8. The Adams Era at LSU...
I am not comparing talent, but in talking to upper-classmen on the LSU team the one player they universally say is a cut above is freshman safety Jamal Adams. He is talked about in the same football vein as Tyrann Mathieu was when he was a freshman.
I have written in the past that in many ways the former Texas high school standout reminds me so much of a young Kenny Vaccaro. He has great instincts to the ball in flight, he is very physical and he packs quite a shot to opponents in the openfield.
Watch for Jamal Adams at LSU. He is the next All-American player and what a secondary lineup with the two best sophomore cornerbacks in America in Rashard Robinson and Tre'Davious White.
9. Gotta Find Room
Les Miles has always talked about playing the best five offensive linemen and he is loaded across the board upfront. The next big time player in my opinion is redshirt sophomore right tackle Jerald Hawkins, but watch for Ethan Pocic.
Pocic, the sophomore from Lemont High School in Illinois, is the younger brother of former Illinois 3-year starting center Graham Pocic.
Ethan has seen work at center, guard and tackle for the Tigers and now many believe he will beat out senior center Elliott Porter.
The 6-6 1/2, 295 pounder has quick feet, excellent technical skills and he is a very good pass protector. He has worked hard to physically get stronger and now he is pressing Porter for the starting center spot.
10. Kalen to the rescue.
Next weekend I travel to the Air Force Academy for the very first time to watch Nicholls State play Air Force.
And I get to watch the most physically gifted football player to wear a Colonels uniform since cornerback Lardarius Webb in quarterback Kalen Henderson.
The former East St. John High School standout, who started his college career at Tulsa, is a playmaker of the highest order.
Henderson is a terrific openfield runner, he has a quick over-the-top delivery and the ball comes out of his hand in a flash. Kalen has a chance to be a big time game changer.....Let's hope he can stay healthy and give the Colonels a signature year offensively.
10B.. Love the idea of a 10-man developmental squad.
One of the smartest things done by the NFL in quite some time.
The NFL needs a spot to develop their young players and the developmental squad is cheaper than sending players to Europe. I still think they should have a developmental league in the spring, but in the states... not in Europe.
In January of 2016 Thibodaux Regional Medical Center will open their new Wellness/Orthopedic Center... A 1st of its kind in Louisiana .. It's a game-changer in Louisiana and the Deep South.
Proud to be part of Team Thibodaux Regional Medical Center
1. Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon
2. Randy Gregory, Defensive End, Nebraska
3. Leonard Williams, Defensive Tackle, USC
4. Brandon Scherff, Offensive Tackle, Iowa
5. Cedric Ogbuehi, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
6. Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Florida State
7. Andrus Peat, Offensive Tackle, Stanford
8. Michael Bennett, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State
9. Brett Hundley, Quarterback, UCLA
10. Landon Collins, Strong Safety, Alabama
11. Shilique Calhoun, Defensive End, Michigan State
12. Bryce Petty, Quarterback, Baylor
13. Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Alabama
14. Mario Edwards, Jr., Defensive End, Florida State
15. Vic Beasley, Outside Linebacker, Clemson
16. Todd Gurley, Halfback, Georgia
17. P.J. Williams, Cornerback, Florida State
18. Cameron Erving, Offensive Tackle, Florida State
19. Nelson Agholor, Wide Receiver, USC
20. Benardrick McKinney, Outside/Inside Linebacker, Mississippi State
21. Dante Fowler, Jr., Defensive End, Florida
22. Josh Shaw, Cornerback, USC
23. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Cornerback, Oregon
24. La'el Collins, Offensive Tackle, LSU
25. Denzel Perryman, Inside/Outside Linebacker, Miami (Fla.)
26. Devin Funchess, Tight End, Michigan
27. Spencer Drango, Offensive Tackle, Baylor
Mike D's Top 10 Weekly Observations sponsored by Thibodaux Regional Medical Center/Sports Medicine Clinic @thibodauxregion
1. Brandin Cooks: I wrote in my 2014 M&D Draft Report that after watching Cooks at Oregon State for three years he reminded me so much of former Carolina Panthers and current Baltimore Ravens WR. Steve Smith.
He is everything that has been advertised!!!
In doing an interview with Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux in July, Mannion pointed out to me that most people don’t fully appreciate how fast Cooks is out on the field.
“It’s sometimes so hard to see what he does after the catch out on the field, but when you watch the game film you come away stunned with his speed and his ability to get away from defenders. It’s stunning sometimes and he never drops the ball either.”
Friday night Cooks caught five passes for 55 yards and one score, and he displayed those sure hands, great speed and 1st rate run after catch skills.
And he played every WR position and also saw work in the slot displaying his football intelligence and his ability to pick up new assignments and different route running details.
Football Savvy… Cooks has it and while Darren Sproles had exceptional quickness and make-you-miss moves the Saints have not had a homerun hitter in the same football vein like Cooks since Reggie Bush.
He is “Football Special” and he ain’t no Larry Burton, who was a track athlete playing football.
Cooks is a fast football player who ran track.
We just saw a glimpse of what he will bring to the football table in the first preseason game.
Every year the New Orleans Saints seem to hit on a longshot free agent and he makes an impact for the team. This season that longshot player may well be former Fresno State outside linebacker Kyle Knox.
The 6-1, 230 pound weakside linebacker started 22 games during his last two seasons for Fresno State and he recorded 55 tackles and 6 tackles for losses as a senior.
Knox was an undrafted NFL free agent who was with the Seattle Seahawks in 2012 and some of the 2013 campaign before he was claimed off waivers by the Jacksonville Jaguars in late August of 2013.
The Jaguars waived him in early October of 2013, but Knox really seems to have picked up Rob Ryan's defense very well and he has been a standout for the Saints on special teams.
Friday night Knox played on every special teams unit and I like his aggressive play, he has excellent foot speed and he is a very instinctive football player.
The difference between Knox at Fresno State and the Knox today is that he is physically much stronger and you can see he has learned how to use his hands and arms better to shed off blockers in heavy traffic.
He has always gotten high marks for his ability to drop back into his coverage areas.
Keep an eye on Mr. Knox, especially as a special teamer. That may be his way to as head coach Sean Payton puts it "Get on the bus, any bus, to make this team."
Finally the long months of non-football has ended.
It is just preseason, but the hope of another Super Bowl run has begun for the "Who Dat Nation" and while it is just the first preseason game it is very obvious that the New Orleans Saints are major contenders to represent the NFC in Super Bowl 49.
There are four elite teams in the NFC in Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans and which one of those four teams can stay the healthiest and get home-field advantage will pave the way to Super Sunday in February of 2015.
Friday night was the first dress rehearsal and a couple of things stuck out to me.
First of all, if there was any question that rookie first round pick wide receiver Brandin Cooks was not the real McCoy he put that to rest real quick.
Cooks caught 5 passes for 55 yards and one score and displayed the electrifying speed and elusiveness I saw for three seasons at Oregon State.
He doesn't have much of a learning curve to maneuver around at the NFL level.
Cooks is fast, no doubt about that, but he is also a good route runner, elusive after the reception and he has sure hands.
But what really sticks out about him is his football intelligence. You can't teach someone to be a natural at what they do and to have the ability to pick up certain things quickly.
Here is my early look at the top junior and senior prospects in the SEC for the 2015 NFL Draft.
1. Cedric Ogbuehi — Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
Cedric has played in the shadow of Jake Matthews and Luke Joeckel at A&M, but with a strong senior season he has a shot to be a top-5 pick in the 2015 NFL draft.
The 6-4 ¾, 305 pounder has started at both guard and tackle for the Aggies during his career.
What I really like about Ogbeuhi is his foot quickness, his ability to adjust quickly to a move and countermove of a defensive lineman and he is a very physical run blocker at the point of attack.
Cedric has star qualities to his overall game.
2. Todd Gurley — Halfback, Georgia
It is rare that I would rate a halfback a 1st round choice in today’s world of college football, but Gurley is a cut-above and the most dominant rushing force in college football when healthy.
Gurley has a rare combination of size, foot speed, make-you-miss skills and 1st rate field vision. While he has been nicked up some by injuries the 6-1, 230 pounder has rushed for 2,374 yards, averaged 6.1 yards per carry and scored 27 TD’s in his first two seasons of college football.
Gurley is also a very good pass receiver and he has caught 53 passes coming out of the backfield at Georgia.
If he can stay healthy Gurley has a chance to be a top-15 selection in 2015.
3. Landon Collins — Strong Safety, Alabama
The 6-0, 215 pound Collins was regarded as the top safety prospect in the nation when he came out of Dutchtown High School in Louisiana and last season he became quite an impact performer for the Tide.
Collins was in on 70 tackles-2nd best on the team, 4 tackles for losses, 6 pass break-ups and 2 pass interceptions as a sophomore.
He is a very physical player in run support, Landon has excellent football instincts, a sure openfield tackler and he really excels in the coverage part of the game.
5. Amari Cooper — Wide Receiver, Alabama
The running game is always mentioned when you talk about Alabama football, but Amari Cooper is one of the top WR. prospects in the nation.
The 6-1,205 pound speedster was ranked one of the top wide receiver prospects in the Deep South when he came out of Northwestern High School in Florida and he has lived up to his lofty prep clippings.
As a freshman he caught 59 passes for 1,000 yards and 11 TD’s.
Last season the fleet-footed end caught 45 passes for 736 yards and 4 scores.
Cooper has really upgraded his route running skills and his ability to get into and out of cuts and breaks quickly.
He is a big-play threat and very effective catching the short pass and breaking out into open field.
6. Dante Fowler, Jr. — Defensive End, Florida
Fowler was rated amongst the top defensive end prospects in the nation when he came out of Lakewood Senior High School in Florida and he is starting to live up to those lofty press clippings. The super quick edge rusher has racked up 18 ½ tackles for losses and 6 QB. sacks in his first two seasons in college football.
Watch for a breakout year in 2014. Fowler has 1st rate initial quickness and speed off the snap and he has developed a very physical nature to go along with his athleticism/speed traits. The 6-3, 278 pounder has developed good leverage skills and the ability to come off of a block in a quick fashion.
7. Benardrick McKinney — Outside Linebacker, Mississippi State
The 6-4 ½, 238 pounder has developed into one of the stellar defensive players in the SEC. McKinney, a former prep QB. and standout basketball player racked up 102 tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2012. Last season the speedy OLB. totaled a team-high 71 tackles, 7 tackles for losses and 3 ½ QB. sacks.
Benardrick has developed a nice set of moves and countermoves to defeat his opponent at the point of attack and he has 1st rate instincts to track down the ballcarrier in run defense.
8. La’el Collins — Offensive Tackle, LSU
Collins was regarded as one of the top prep offensive tackles in the nation when he came out of Redemptorist High School in Louisiana.
In 2013 everyone saw his dominant play as a run blocker and most of the big yardage totaled by Jeremy Hill was run toward Collins’ side of the field.
The 6-4 ¾, 315 pounder, who has started at both left guard and left tackle at LSU, is a very physical player at the point of attack and he gets a strong initial surge with his run blocks.
La’el needs some work on refining his pass blocking skills and techniques, but NFL scouts will love his bulk strength, his long arms and his ability to steer defenders away from his QB.. Collins has a strong shot to be the first LSU offensive lineman selected in Round One since Alan Faneca back in 1998.
9. Jordan Jenkins — Outside Linebacker, Georgia
If you are looking for a breakout star in the SEC defensively in 2014 look no farther than Jordan Jenkins.
The 6-3, 245 pounder was regarded as one of the elite defensive players in the Deep South when he came out of Harris County High School in Georgia and last season Jenkins emerged as quite a force for the Bulldogs.
Jenkins started 13 games and racked up 45 tackles, 12 tackles for losses and he forced one fumble. Jenkins also totaled 23 QB. hurries and 5 QB. sacks in 2013.
As a freshman in 2012 he totaled 5 QB. sacks.
Jenkins is aggressive, tough in run support and a sure openfield tackler. He is still learning the finer points of using his arms and hands to get around O-Linemen to rush the QB. better, but athletically he has all the tools to become a signature player in the SEC.
10. Ramik Wilson — Inside Linebacker, Georgia
While Jenkins is Mr. Outside Linebacker for the Bulldogs, Wilson is Mr. Inside.
The rugged 6-2, 235 pounder led the SEC in total tackles in 2013 with 133 and he also totaled 11 tackles for losses. Wilson is a very instinctive player, very physical at the point of attack, rarely out of position and a sure openfield tackler.
The former prep tight end also is good in the coverage part of the game and he had 3 pass break-ups in 2013.
In many ways he reminds me of a bigger and more athletic version of what the LSU Tigers had in Kevin Minter, who is now with the Arizona Cardinals.
11. Trey Flowers — Defensive End, Arkansas
The Arkansas defense was not a good unit in 2013, but one young man who stood out was defensive end Trey Flowers.
The 6-4, 268 pounder from Columbia High School in Alabama has emerged as one of the most consistent and feared edge rushers in the SEC.
Last season Flowers racked up 44 tackles, 13 ½ tackles for losses, 5 QB. sacks and he forced 3 fumbles.
In 2012 Flowers recorded 50 tackles, 13 tackles for losses and 6 QB. sacks.
Trey has a very quick initial surge off the snap and he turns the corner sharply when getting penetration from the edge. The former prep basketball standout has learned how to use his arms and hands effectively to get around opposing offensive tackles.
He is also a good run defender and with some added weight and strength Flowers has a strong shot to again be a defensive standout for the Hogs in 2014.
12. Denzel Devall — Outside Linebacker, Alabama
Just watching this young man play last season you can tell he has “special” qualities coming off the edge.
Devall was one of the top rated defensive ends in the state of Louisiana when he came out of Bastrop High School and he has quickly picked up the outside linebacker slot.
Last season the 6-2, 252 pounder racked up 30 tackles, 5 tackles for losses, 3 QB. sacks and he forced 2 fumbles as a sophomore.
He has just scratched the surface of his potential as a prospect and few can match his physicality, speed, quickness off the edge and instincts to track down plays.
Devall is a stud football player and will be something to watch in 2014.
13. Trey DePriest — Inside Linebacker, Alabama
C.J. Mosley was a tremendous football player for the Tide, but Trey DePriest is a really fine football player also.
Trey has started the past two seasons inside for the Tide after they pulled him away from Ohio State and the other schools in the heart of the country at Springfield High Schoolin Ohio.
In 2013 DePriest recorded 65 tackles, 7 ½ tackles for losses, 2 QB. sacks, 1 pass interception and he forced 2 fumbles.
The 6-2, 244 pounder is instinctive, rarely takes a false step to the football and he is a very aggressive and physical openfield tackler.
Trey has worked hard to develop better coverage skills and now he is the leader of the Tide defense for 2014.
His size, speed to the quarterback, quick instinct skills and production catch your eyes in a fast manner.
14. A.J. Cann — Offensive Guard, South Carolina
Left tackle Corey Robinson is the “potential” guy on the left side, but the most dominant player on the Gamecock offensive line and the best guard in the SEC is A.J. Cann.
The 6-3 ½, 320 pounder has been a dominant player upfront for the past three seasons for South Carolina.
Tough, physical, a roadgrader as a run blocker and a very good pass protector has made the former standout at Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School in South Carolina one of the most coveted senior guards for the pro ranks.
I love his ability to move people off the line of scrimmage and he does a fine job finishing off his blocks. Cann has made great improvements as a pass protector and has learned how to use his arms and hands so well in protecting the QB..
Keep an eye on #50, he is something special as an interior offensive lineman.
15. T.J. Yeldon — Halfback, Alabama
The former Mr. Football in the state of Alabama has become one of the top rushers in college football.
The 6-1 ¾, 220 pounder rushed for 1,108 yards and scored 12 rushing touchdowns as a true freshman.
In 2013 Yeldon rushed for 1,235 yards, averaged 6.0 yards per carry and scored 14 rushing TD’s.
He also caught 20 passes coming out of the backfield as a sophomore and he is a sure-handed target out in the flat.
Yeldon runs with a straight-up style and he takes some nasty hits, but he is shifty in space, has another gear to kick into when out in the open and he has excellent field vision.
Yeldon also has a nose for the goalline and he has really improved his pass blocking skills.
T.J. will lay the ball on the turf too much for a player with his skills and he will have to share the ball more in 2014 with Derrick Henry, but his all-purpose skills and hard-charging style will get him picked early in 2015.
16. Corey Robinson — Offensive Tackle, South Carolina
Left tackles and good ones are hard to find at the college and professional level. South Carolina’s Corey Robinson has the skills to be one of those top-flight left tackles for the pros.
At 6-7 ½, 340 pounds Robinson is a $28.50 cab ride to get around and he has developed very good pass blocking techniques. Corey is also a real roadgrader as a run blocker due to his massive frame, but you would love to see him develop a real mean streak as a run blocker to finish off his blocks better.
While he did see some work along the defensive line for the Gamecocks earlier in his college career it is obvious that Robinson will be one of the most closely watched SEC offensive linemen by scouts in 2014.
While A.J. Cann is the more established performer and the more productive player at the college level Robinson is the “potential” guy upfront for the pros.
The duo of Robinson and Cann form the best left side in the SEC for 2014.
17. Sammie Coates — Wide Receiver, Auburn
The 6-1 ½, 205 pound end is one of the most physical and one of the top big-play athletes at wide receiver in the SEC and the country.
Last season Coates caught a team-high 38 passes for 841 yards, averaged an eye-popping 22.1 yards per catch and 7 of those catches went for TD’s.
NFL teams will love his good size, foot speed, run after catch skills and he is aggressive going after the football in a crowd.
The former prep standout from LeRoy High School in Alabama had 14 catches last season of 30-plus yards.
He is a big play athlete and one that can blow the top of deep coverage.
18. Shane Ray — Defensive End, Missouri
Last season Michael Sam and Kony Ealy got most of the ink as “pressure” people forMissouri, but this season watch for the 6-3, 250 pounder to blossom into one of the top edge rushers in the SEC.
Shane’s dad, Wendell, was a standout DL. for Missouri-who also went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings.
Shane was regarded as one of the elite defensive end prospects in the nation when he came out of Bishop Miege High School in Missouri.
Last season Ray was in on 39 tackles, 9 tackles for losses, 11 QB. hurries and 4 ½ QB. sacks.
While he lacks great bulk, Shane’s speed, edge quickness and closing pass rush skills are eye-catching. Ray and Markus Golden give Missouri quite a pass rush coming from the corners.
19. Danielle Hunter — Defensive End, LSU
If there was a defensive football player that really stood out for the Tigers in the spring of 2014 it was defensive end Danielle Hunter.
The 6-5, 250 pounder was almost impossible to block at times and he flashed the pass rush skill set that could make him one of the most dominant edge rushers in the SEC in 2014.
Last season the Morton Ranch High School in Texas standout recorded 57 tackles, 8 tackles for losses, 3 QB. sacks and 5 QB. hurries.
NFL teams will love his length, quickness off the snap, the ability to use his arms and hands effectively to defeat his opponent and closing speed to the quarterback.
He also is very effective against the run and he has 1st rate chasedown skills from the backside.
20. Cody Prewitt — Free Safety, Ole Miss
Cody became the first Ole Miss Rebel safety since 1973 to win 1st team All-American honors in 2013.
Prewitt is a terrific athlete with excellent centerfielder skills, he is tough in run support, a sure openfield tackler and he has sure hands for the interception.
Prewitt also has excellent foot speed and recovery ability on the deeper throws.
The former running back at Sylva Bay Academy in Mississippi registered 71 tackles, 4 ½ tackles for losses, 6 pass interceptions and 7 pass break-ups in 2013.
The 6-1 ½, 210 pounder is one of the elite free safeties in college football today.
21. Jalen Mills — Free Safety, LSU
The 6-1, 190 pounder from DeSoto High School in Texas started 13 games at cornerback as a true freshman for the Tigers in 2013.
With Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White coming to LSU in 2013 Mills was moved to the safety spot and he struggled a bit in transition.
But his size, speed, cover skills, range and the ability to track the football in flight quickly will make 2014 a breakout season for the speedy Mills.
I love defensive backs with quick twitch skills and coverage ability because that is where the game is headed today and Mills has those type skills to be an early round pick in 2015.
22. D’Haquille Williams — Wide Receiver, Auburn
The 6-2, 215 pound end has not taken a snap at the major college level, but he was the most physically gifted WR. I have ever seen come out of the Louisiana high school ranks and that would include Reggie Wayne, the late Chris Henry, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham.
In 2012 at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Williams caught 67 passes for 1,295 yards and 17 TD’s.
In 2013 he caught 51 passes for 733 yards and 9 scores.
The former East St. John High School standout is a physical end with excellent eye-hand coordination, he will battle for the football in a crowd and he has the foot speed to race away from defenders.
If he is focused and works at perfecting his craft he could well be the top wide receiver in the SEC by season’s end. Like another Auburn standout in Greg Robinson watch what type impact Williams will make for Auburn late in the year.
23. A.J. Johnson — Inside Linebacker, Tennessee
The 6-2, 245 pounder from Gainesville High School in Georgia has been a starter since his freshman season for the Vols.
The former Georgia Class AAA has totaled 324 tackles and 21 1/2 tackles for losses for Tennessee during his three-year career.
In many ways Johnson reminds me of former Florida All-SEC and current Buffalo Bills inside linebacker Brandon Spikes.
Johnson is instinctive, he has a knack for getting around heavy traffic out on the field, is physical at the point of attack and he is a sure openfield tackler.
Johnson needs to improve his pass coverage skills and drop techniques, but he is a major league thumper at middle linebacker and a force against the run.
The wait is almost over and the NFL draft is near. Thursday night starts off the three day event which is the most covered sports event of the year. The NFL draft is not just the three day affair, but it is talked, written about and scrutinized 52 weeks and 365 days a year.
The New Orleans Saints pick 27th overall in Round One and speculation is rampant on what will occur draft night.
I really do believe that the Saints will seriously explore the possibility of moving up in Round One to acquire one of the top “speed” receivers in the draft in either USC’s Marqise Lee or Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, but the guy most “Who Dat” followers want, LSU’s Odell Beckham, will be long gone before the 20th overall selection.
Matter of fact Beckham could surpass Michael Clayton as the highest drafted Tiger wide receiver in the modern era of the NFL draft. Clayton was the 15th overall selection in the 2004 NFL draft.
A trade back in Round One for extra picks later in this very rich draft class is also a possibility.
But I really believe the target wide receiver for the Saints in Round One is USC’s Marqise Lee. Lee has had a very tough journey to the NFL.
Lee’s parents are both deaf and he communicates with them via sign language. He had a very difficult childhood and he moved a number of times throughout his childhood staying with his mother and grandparents.
His father was not regularly involved in his life and both of his brothers were involved in gangs. One of his brothers was murdered in a gang-related shooting and his other brother was in jail in Arizona on an attempted murder charge.
He started high school living in a foster home before a high school friend’s family took him in. Lee blossomed into one of the best prep receivers and track athletes in the country when he came out of Serra High School in California.
Marqise was not just a good player as a freshman and sophomore, but a dominant player in the PAC-12 and the best receiver in the conference.
Headed into the 2013 college football season I ranked Lee as the 7th best player available for the 2014 NFL draft and now there is a strong chance he could be available at the #20 spot in Round One.
Despite being derailed by injuries as a junior Lee owns or shares 22 USC records and he caught 191 passes for 2,864 yards, averaged 15.0 yards per catch and scored 24 touchdowns for USC.
He also averaged 28.5 yards per runback on 40 kickoffs and he returned 2 back for scores. In three seasons Lee accounted for 4,144 all-purpose yards and scored 27 touchdowns.
Lee was such a great athlete that he competed on the Trojan track team as a long-jumper and sprinter.
Former USC defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator and interim head coach Ed Orgeron is a huge fan of Marqise Lee.
“As a person Marqise is a fine young man, very polite and very respectful,” said Orgeron. “He grew up in the inner city and had a tough childhood, but he is someone that you really pull for. As a player he was terrific for us at USC, but he still has plenty of untapped potential. If he is there in the 20’s in Round One he is a steal of a pick for whoever gets him.”
Stanford head coach David Shaw says that Lee is one of the best wide receivers he has ever seen.
“Marqise Lee is the best college wide receiver I’ve seen since I scouted Randy Moss,” Shaw said.
He is a value pickup for whatever team selects him if gets further than the 18h overall selection, he’s that good. In my opinion, if the Saints decide to trade up for a wide receiver, the choice is USC’s Marqise Lee.
If the Saints decide not to trade upward in Round One there are three players to watch for late in opening round. Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley are three that could be on the board when the Saints pick at #27.
Shazier was a prep defensive end at Plantation High School in Florida. He originally decided to verbally commit to Florida, but when head coach Urban Meyer decided to retire due to health reasons he took recruiting trips to LSU and Ohio State before he changed his mind and became a Buckeye
The 6-1 ½, 238 pounder has led the Buckeyes in tackles the past two seasons and recorded 306 tackles over the last three seasons.
Shazier ran an eye-catching (4.36) 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine, but what was impressive over the past two seasons was watching the big plays generated by the super-quick flow linebacker.
Over the past two seasons Shazier has recorded 39 ½ tackles for losses, 11 quarterback sacks and 7 forced fumbles.
And he is also a very good cover-linebacker and this is so important in a league that stresses matches downfield.
His speed, ability to create negative plays and his top of the line coverage skills and foot speed make him an inviting target late in Round One.
Like Shazier, one of the most underrated players in the draft class of 2014 is Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller. Fuller comes from a very athletic family.
His older brother, Vincent Fuller, was a standout at Virginia Tech and he played safety for the Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots.
Another brother, Corey Fuller, played wide receiver at Virginia Tech and he was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft by the Detroit Lions.
His younger brother, Kendall, is a standout cornerback for the Hokies.
Fuller started 7 games as a true freshman for the Hokies and has been a fulltime starter the past three seasons.
The fleet footed Fuller has recorded 32 pass deflections and 6 pass interceptions the past three seasons and he has also been a strong run defender racking up 141 tackles despite missing time late in the 2013 season due to a sports hernia injury.
The 6-0, 192 pounder has very good one-on-one coverage skills and excellent ball reaction skills.
He is also very effective coming off the edge as a blitzer and he has been a standout on special teams.
Fuller would be a quality selection at the #27 position.
One player that I think has an outside shot to still be hanging around at the #27 spot would be Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. Like what happened to current Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan in 2011 I could see a scenario that occurs that has Mosley falling to the Saints’ pick.
While it is not the most likely event to occur no one thought Deuce McAllister, Will Smith and Cameron Jordan would last as long as they did in Round One.
I have Mosley rated the 23rd best overall player and he has lived up to his high school press clippings at linebacker. In high school Mosley recorded over 500 tackles.
To be honest, if you are not a great pass rusher, the linebacker position has been devalued in some quarters similar to that of the halfback spot.
But over the past two seasons the 6-2, 235 pound Mosley had been quite a force in the SEC totaling 215 tackles and 23 tackles for losses.
Watching Mosley closely since he left Theodore High School he is one of the most instinctive defensive players in this draft class and also one of the top cover-linebackers available in 2014.
During his Alabama career Mosley had 19 pass break-ups and 5 pass interceptions.
Mosley is a quality athlete who rarely takes a false step to the football, he is a 1st class openfield tackler and he is a physical player at the point of attack.
In the best draft class I have ever done from a depth standpoint in 27 years and the window of opportunity there for the Saints to make a serious run to the Super Bowl in 2014 who they select and how quickly they can contribute will help them get that down that tough road.
Just remember on a very good 2013 New Orleans Saints team the contributions of the rookies in Kenny Vaccaro, Kenny Stills, John Jenkins, Terron Armstead and Khiry Robinson, and the potential of offensive center Tim Lelito, tight end Josh Hill, outside linebacker Rufus Johnson, cornerback Rod Sweeting, quarterback Ryan Griffin and defensive tackle Glenn Foster.
This shapes up as one of the most intriguing draft days I have ever done.
Here is my take on Round One
1. Houston Texans- Jadeveon Clowney-DE. South Carolina
2. St. Louis Rams (from Wash. R.)- Greg Robinson-OT. Auburn
3. Jacksonville Jaguars- Khalil Mack-OLB. Buffalo
4. Cleveland Browns- Sammy Watkins-WR. Clemson
5. Oakland Raiders- Johnny Manziel-QB. Texas A&M
6. Atlanta Falcons- Jake Matthews-OT. Texas A&M
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mike Evans-WR. Texas A&M
8. Minnesota Vikings- Blake Bortles-QB. Central Florida
9. Buffalo Bills- Eric Ebron-TE. North Carolina
10. Detroit Lions- Taylor Lewan-OT. Michigan
11. Tennessee Titans- Justin Gilbert-CB. Oklahoma State
12. New York Giants- Anthony Barr-OLB./DE. UCLA
13. St. Louis Rams- Odell Beckham, Jr.-WR. LSU
14. Chicago Bears- Aaron Donald-DT. Pittsburgh
15. Pittsburgh Steelers- Darqueze Dennard-CB. Michigan State
16. Dallas Cowboys- Ha Ha Clinton Dix-S. Alabama
17. Baltimore Ravens- Zack Martin-OT./OG. Notre Dame
18. New York Jets- Brandin Cooks-WR. Oregon State
19. Miami Dolphins- C.J. Mosley-ILB. Alabama
20. Arizona Cardinals- Teddy Bridgewater-QB. Louisville
21. Green Bay Packers- Timmy Jernigan-DT. Florida State
22. Philadelphia Eagles- Marqise Lee-WR. USC
23. Kansas City Chiefs- Calvin Pryor-FS. Louisville
24. Cincinnati Bengals- Bradley Roby-CB. Ohio State
25. San Diego Chargers- Dee Ford-DE./OLB. Auburn
26. Cleveland Browns(from Indy Colts)- Derek Carr-QB. Fresno State
27. New Orleans Saints- Ryan Shazier-OLB. Ohio State
28. Carolina Panthers- Kyle Fuller-CB. Virginia Tech
29. New England Patriots- RaShede Hageman-DT. Minnesota
30. San Francisco 49ers- Louis Nix III-DT. Notre Dame
31. Denver Broncos- Jason Verrett-CB. TCU
32. Seattle Seahawks- Austin Seferian-Jenkins-TE. Washington
Watch for the Centers
In the draft class of 2014 there are two centers, Colorado State’s Weston Richburg and USC’s Marcus Martin that rate as solid second round pick selections.
Richburg, 6-3, 300, played quarterback as a freshman at Bushland High School in Texas before growing out of the position.
His durability is a strong point to his game as he has started 49 times for Colorado State which is a school record. What jumps out about Richburg is how athletic he is for a 300-pounder and he plays the game with excellent leverage skills.
At the 2014 Senior Bowl Richburg was one of the few offensive linemen who won his fair share of battles with the most dominant player on the field in Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. While he still needs some work on his pass protection techniques Richburg excels as a run blocker and he gets a strong initial surge up the field.
Marcus Martin was considered one of the elite offensive linemen on the West Coast when he came out of Crenshaw High School in California.
As a true freshman he started the final 10 games of the 2011 season and became the first Trojan true freshman to start at offensive guard since 2004.
Martin started again at offensive guard in 2012 before being moved to the offensive center spot in 2013. He earned 1st team All-PAC-12 honors as a junior and started all 13 regular season games for the Trojans before dislocating his kneecap in the season finale and he did not play in the Las Vegas Bowl. Martin announced after the season that he was giving up his senior season of college football to turn pro early.
The 6-3, 320 pounder has made the rounds to a number of teams including the New Orleans Saints lately as they put a final look in on his kneecap injury from the 2013 season.
In watching film on Martin is a very good technician as both a run blocker and pass protector and a very alert player out on the field. He fires off the snap quickly and does a nice job controlling the man in front of him and he did a very good job in his only season at center for the Trojans.
Martin still needs to become a more physical player at the point of attack with defenders, but he is smart, explosive in firing off the snap, technically sound and he has good quickness/agility skills in adjusting to movement upfront.
Both these young men have seen work at both guard and center in college and their versatility is a huge plus. In one of the toughest positions you will find on the field to start as a rookie in my opinion both Martin and Richburg look like good starting offensive centers in the NFL, but they may both start their NFL careers at the guard spot.