Richner: Top 5s
NFL Draft Expert Matt Richner breaks down his Top 5 at each position below (as well as some possible sleepers and/or busts). Specific positions are also available in the Archive.
Top 5 Quarterbacks
This is a very top-heavy quarterback class for the 2012 NFL Draft. After Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in the top two spots, there are only a few draft-worthy candidates left. Kirk Cousins, Kellen Moore, and Russell Wilson are three of the top five remaining prospects. Teams should place a "Buyer Beware" tag around the names Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, Nick Foles and Brandon Weeden on their draft boards.
1. Andrew Luck (Stanford): It seems almost a foregone conclusion that Andrew Luck will be the top pick in April's 2012 NFL Draft. Statistically speaking, he meets and exceeds every benchmark I use to evaluate quarterbacks. Luck leaves Stanford breaking almost every statistical record set forth by some guy named John Elway, who may or may not have had a decent NFL career. With a career record of 31-8, a career completion percentage of 67.0% and 9,430 yards passing, there is no doubt he is ready and capable of handling the rigors of the NFL. In the red zone is where Luck has been most lethal. Last season, he led Stanford to 69 trips into the red zone and was able to walk away with points in 67 of those trips. The only two times they didn't walk away with points, their placekicker missed field goals. He will be selected into organization with limited offensive weapons and a shaky offensive line. According to Paul Bessire, Luck is projected to have a completion percentage of 60% next season, with 26 TDs and 20 INTs.
2. Robert Griffin III (Baylor): Though not as big as Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III is just as physically impressive with his athletic ability. He showed remarkable accuracy with a career completion percentage of 67.1%. The studies I have done have found that his career completion percentage in a pro-style offense in college would have been between 62-63%. He had a great deal of weapons surrounding him at Baylor with possible first round pick Kendall Wright and late round selection Terrance Ganaway. Given the tools in a high powered offensive system, "RGIII" was able to maximize everyone in his arsenal. There is no reason to believe that RGIII won't be a long-term, successful QB in the NFL.
3. Kirk Cousins (Michigan State): Cousins is a three-year starter and three time-team captain with a 27-12 record as a starter playing in a pro-style offense. Cousins, was able to produce a career completion percentage of 64.1%, an impressive number to go along with his leadership achievements. He is a seasoned leader who should be given an opportunity to come into an organization, sit for a few years and learn the offensive system. In terms of player comparisons, Cousins reminds me of Tony Romo coming out of college. Romo had 26 wins, 86 TDs, 36 INTs and a 62.1% completion percentage at Eastern Illinois. Romo also spent a few years on the bench learning the Cowboys' offensive playbook. Cousins has the talent, make-up, measurables, tools and the ability to be an effective starting QB in a few years.
4. Kellen Moore (Boise State): Though he is undersized, his production and leadership are second to none in college football. Going into this season Boise State lost two of their main targets on offense in Titus Young (2nd Round, Lions) and Austin Pettis (3rd Round, Rams) to the NFL. Losing two valuable weapons on offense didn't seem to slow down Boise State or Kellen Moore. In 2011, Boise State ranked 12th nationally in passing offense with an average of 309 passing yards a game and 45 TDs on the season. There are only four players since 2000 with 40 or more victories as a starting QB in college football: Chad Pennington, David Greene, Colt McCoy, and Andy Dalton. Moore's coaching staff and teammates consistently praise his work ethic and attention to detail. In watching his game film, he showed a tremendous ability to put touch and accuracy on his passes. He throws the best back shoulder fade of anyone in this year's draft class. Moore's throws are consistent and have seemingly perfect ball placement for his receivers to make plays. A team that selects him will undoubtedly be getting a player who is a prepared, precision passer, and a leader. If put in the right offensive system, Moore could be an elite starting QB in this league.
5. Russell Wilson (Wisconsin): Wilson is an energetic, dynamic leader who played at not just one major BCS program but two (Wisconsin, and North Carolina State). As with Moore, most scouts continue to harp on his size or lack thereof as a major strike against him. Wilson is a very talented athletic QB who shows good functional mobility inside and outside the pocket. He has 30 career wins as a starter, 109 career TD passes thrown and a TD/INT ratio of 3.63, all passing the benchmarks set forth in our QB Report. Wilson is often compared to Drew Brees (24 wins, 90 TDs, 2.0 TD/INT in college), which is true in terms of height and measurables both standing roughly six feet tall. The statistical comparison I would use for him is Byron Leftwich coming out of Marshall. It would not surprise me to see Wilson have a long-term career as a top back-up in the NFL.
BUYER BEWARE: Teams would be wise to avoid these quarterbacks. From statistical measurements, none of these QBs meet the benchmarks set forth in my QB Report.
Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M): A limited starter who only has 12 career wins. The only other QBs with 12 or fewer career wins to be drafted since 2000 are Rohan Davey, Kevin O'Connell, Matt Flynn, Matt Cassel and Mike Kafka. I would recommend teams avoid using a high round draft on Tannehill and look at possibly selecting him in the late rounds and developing him just as the Packers did with Matt Flynn.
Brock Osweiler (Arizona State): It's simple and easy why teams should avoid selecting Osweiler in the NFL Draft. He wasn't even a one year wonder in college with only seven career wins to his name. Since 2000, the two players who most mirror Osweiler's production to be drafted are Spergon Wynn (2000) and Jim Sorgi (2004). That's not necessarily a group of players who are beating down the doors of Canton. Given that he played in a spread offense and still was only able to produce a career completion percentage of 60.5% is a major red flag. If he played in a pro-style offense his completion percentage would be in the range of 56-57%. Tall? Yes. But, not good enough. Pass.
Nick Foles (Arizona): It is easy to see why scouts like Nick Foles. He is 6-5, 244 lbs. and possesses with decent mechanics. What I don't like about him is he only had 15 wins as a starter in three years at Arizona. The offensive system he played in is not conducive to the NFL. The vast majority of his throws last season were for bubble screens, quick strikes or presumed high percentage throws. His accuracy falls below 60% when his passes go over 15 yards. The player Foles most compares to is Jimmy Clausen, and the only thing Clausen has done in the NFL is lose enough games for the Panthers to be able to select Cam Newton.
Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State): Players who recently failed at baseball only to come back and try their hands in college football and be drafted: Josh Booty, Drew Henson and Chris Weinke. None of them have succeeded. Odds are just not in his favor on this one.
Top 5 Running Backs
1. Trent Richardson (Alabama): By almost all statistical measurements he is the top back in the class. He averaged close to 6 yards-per-carry last season, to go along with an avg. of 11.7 yards-per-reception. He showed above average pass catching ability with a career total of 68 receptions, which puts him in the top 3 in running backs coming out of the draft this year. He has excellent kickoff return ability, averaging over 25 yards-per return throughout his career at Alabama which ranks him second only to Doug Martin from Boise State in return yards from the running back class this year. For someone who had over 635 career carries, he had very good ball security. Richardson had only seven career fumbles, giving him a fumble percentage of 1.1%. With a player of his compact frame, speed, and ability to break tackles, to go along with his impressive production at Alabama, it is no wonder why this guy is the top back in the upcoming draft.
2. Cyrus Gray (Texas A&M): He is a multi-dimensional running back, who began his college career as a WR for two seasons compiling over 100 receptions. After moving to RB his junior and senior season, he rushed for over 1,100 yards each season with 12 TDs both years. Every time he carried the ball more than 20 times in a game he had over 100 yards rushing, a good sign of a player who consistently is able to maintain his endurance/strength for over longer period of time. Gray was a consistent performer in the return game with close to 100 kick returns, the highest amount of any of the running backs in this draft class, (averaging 23.8 yards per return). Lastly, he comes from a West Coast offense system, in theory he should be able to step in and understand the terminology, schemes, and general thought process of the West Coast offense. From day one he should make an impact on special teams, along with being a versatile contributor on offense.
3. Doug Martin (Boise St): A consistent producer who is very versatile and productive for the better part of three seasons. In reviewing his stats it's apparent he actually had a bit of a down year this past season compared to his overall career averages. His career average is 5.56 yards-per-carry, and hes has a One-Year-Wonder Index of 38% (the percentage of a player's total yards in his best season; ideal range is 35-50%). He showed good hands and the ability to separate himself from his defender, along with strong route running ability. Martin is willing to step up into the lane and make a block, he was even left on an island a number of times each game and was able to consistently pick up the blitz. Martin has decent ball security, middle of the road for this year's draft class with 8 career fumbles in 710 career touches, which amounts to a fumble every 1.1% of the time he touches the football. His career rushing TD total of 43 ranks him third in this year’s draft class. His agility is fluid as he shows little wasted movement and time picking his lane, he makes his cut and gets up field and doesn’t dance around in the backfield. He won't be taken down with arm tackles and of the games I watched of him, he wasn't caught from behind. Overall, he is a versatile running back who could be counted on as an every-down running back in this league.
4. Robert Turbin (Utah St.): A very strong, balanced runner, Turbin does a great job at staying low, absorbing the hit and moving forward. He averaged 5.9 yards-per carry throughout his career in college, which ranks him just below (LaMichael James and Isaiah Pead). He was a consistent producer in college with a One-Year Wonder Index of 46% (ideal range 35-50%), to go along with his career rushing TD total of 40. His ability as a receiver separates him from other running backs in this class as he has impressive hands and route running ability. He caught 67 passes for his career, and he leads this year's running back class with 845 receiving yards and 11 receiving TDs. His TD-per-Touch percentage for his career was 8.1%, the highest by a significant margin in this year's draft class (meaning 8.1% of the time he touched the football ended in a TD). He is a player who understands his job and the value of taking care of the football as he had only five career fumbles in over 800 career touches of the football (carries + receptions). Not an official stat but one that I have been tracking this year is yards-after contact and Turbin is second in the nation behind Trent Richardson. He is only one year removed from having ACL surgery, which might be a health concern, but you can also assume that he probably wasn't at full strength last year and he still was able to produce at a high level. Turbin isn't a back who is looking to dance behind the line of scrimmage, he makes quick decisions, picks his hole and commits to his running lane. For players in this year's draft class with over 400 career carries he had the least number of negative rushing yards (76).
5. Chris Polk (Washington): Polk was a workhorse in college and really the only consistent running threat for the Huskies this past year. He is a smart player who shows great ability in both pass protection and pass catching. On numerous occasions he would line up in the backfield and at the snap run a wheel route down the sideline, making a great over the shoulder grab for a big gain. He showed he has the ability to catch the ball away from his body, maintain his speed while pass catching and continue to look up-field to pick up yards. He is a strong runner, who is able to get low, keeps his legs churning, and finishes his runs falling forward to pick up critical yards. His 0.6% fumble percentage was by far the best in this year's draft class, having only fumbled a total of five times out of 892 career touches. He does tend to get caught from behind as he is not a burner, but he is a confident and capable back who understands ball security.
Lamar Miller (Miami, FL.): A one year starter with the least number of career carries (335) for any running back coming out of this year's draft. His one year wonder index rating is 66%, which puts him in the category of most likely to be a draft bust. He was a limited participant in the return game with only 15 career kickoff returns averaging 25 yards. Miller, also had the lowest yards per reception total with a paltry 6.5 YPC average. He has a history of injuries, limited experience, combined with poor technique in pass protection and ball security. A late round selection teams would be wise to stay away from him in the first few rounds at least.
David Wilson (Virginia Tech): There is a large reel of game tape of David Wilson making plays, highlighting his devastating cut that would cause any NFL football front office to take notice. Wilson also has a great deal of game tape fumbling the football. He has the highest number of career fumbles of any running back in this class with 11. In fact, he fumbles the football 2.9% of the time he touches the ball. He might make explosive plays, but will hurt a team's chances of winning a football game as he fumbles the ball away too much. His talents shine in the return game with 61 career kickoff returns, with an average of 21 yards and two TDs. Teams would be wise to view and use him in the mold of a LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Top 5 Wide Receivers
This is a talent-laden, rich class of wide receivers. At the top of the class are Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright. There are a number of high-quality, slot receivers and small prospects this year with Ryan Broyles from Oklahoma as the top slot receiver and Jordan White from Western Michigan as a small school gem.
1. Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State): Justin Blackmon is the game-changing, physically dominating, two-time Biletnikoff Award winning and top rated receiver on my board. He had an outstanding year in 2011 with 121 receptions for 1,522 yards and 12 TDs. From a physical tools standpoint, he has great hands and does a good job of using his body to shield defenders. Blackmon really shows his strength and power in the red zone with his ability to go up and snag the ball at its highest point. From a statistical make-up, Blackmon's careers number match-up with current Packers' WR Greg Jennings, who was drafted out of Western Michigan in 2006. In the WR Report available on Prediction Machine.com, it is noted that NFL teams should pay close attention to any WR in the draft who is able to exceed over 100 receptions in a single season as well as exceed 32 career TD receptions. Blackmon exceeds both of these benchmarks. The only worry I have about Blackmon is that the system which he played in allowed for other wide receivers to put up just as impressive numbers but have failed to live up to their hype in the NFL. Rashaun Woods (2004 NFL Draft) and Dez Bryant (2010 NFL Draft) both put up incredible numbers while playing for Oklahoma State and their high-powered, potent offense. Hopefully for Justin Blackmon, he can break the streak of mediocrity coming from former Oklahoma State wide receivers in the NFL.
2. Michael Floyd (Notre Dame): It's a bit of a mixed bag with Michael Floyd. On the one hand, we have a player who meets or exceeds the highest standards in every receiving statistical category set forth in the WR Report. On the other hand, we have a player who had three alcohol related incidents and was suspended from the team for spring practice in 2011. He has all the physical capabilities to be a top receiver in the NFL. It's just a matter of if he has his head screwed on straight. The best statistical comparison would be Vincent Jackson. Both players put up over 3,500 receiving yards in college and 37 TDs for their careers.
3. Kendall Wright (Baylor): Wright made an immediate impact on Baylor's offense from his first game as a freshman. He finished his career with 302 receptions, 4004 receiving yards and 30 TDs. Last season, he had a total of 108 receptions, 1663 receiving yards and 14 TDs playing with Robert Griffin III. He is a quick-twitch player who shows a strong ability to read defensive coverages and adjust his route on the fly. For a statistical comparison, Wright is similar to Terance Mathis. Both players are sub-six feet tall and 190 lbs. with lightning quick first steps. Mathis, had 263 career receptions, 4,254 rec. yards and 36 TDs while playing at New Mexico. Hopefully, Wright is able to enjoy a 12 year career just like Mathis.
4. Jordan White (Western Michigan): White isn't a player that will probably be taken within the first few rounds of the draft, but he is someone who fans and front office personnel should watch. He flat-out dominated at Western Michigan, where he shattered receiving records set by Greg Jennings. At 6'0" and 195 lbs., he is not the most physically dominating wide receiver, yet he is smart and has tremendous hands to go along with elite route running ability. The knock on him is that he had two ACL surgeries early in his career. Still, he has been able to play three consecutive season with no injuries. Statistical comp: Bobby Engram.
5. Ryan Broyles (Oklahoma): Broyles is a player who was rising up draft boards all season until he tore his ACL in the ninth game of the season against Texas A&M. His rookie season may not be special, but give him time to recover and I bet he will have a long career as a slot receiver in the NFL. Oklahoma's offense was reliant on Broyles. After he went down with his injury, Oklahoma had its two lowest offense yards outputs on the season. He was Landry Jones safety valve and the loss of Broyles affected the team's overall performance. Broyles worked primarily from the slot position and has the best route running ability of any player in this year's draft class. His stats are downright incredible with over 4,500 career receiving yards, 349 career receptions and 45 TDs. That places him in impressive company. Stat comp: Wes Welker.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Jeff Fuller (Texas A&M): Fuller had a productive career at Texas A&M, which is even more impressive considering he had no help from a decent college quarterback. With his 6'4", 223 lbs. frame, he can be a force on the outside in the NFL. He had 233 career receptions for 3092 receiving yards. Fuller is a mid-round prospect that could shine in a few years.
Brian Quick (Appalachian State): A small-school prospect with great size (6'3") and a player who dominated at the FCS level, Quick, has over 300 career receptions, 3418 receiving yards and averaged over 16 yards-per-reception. Quick could be a great pick up in the mid rounds of the NFL Draft.
BIG TEN COMBO:
Marvin McNutt (Iowa): Marvin McNutt stands 6'3" and weighs 216 lbs. He comes out of college with 170 career receptions and 28 TDs. He showed great ability using his body to shield defenders to go along with his soft hands. McNutt had one of the lowest number of dropped passes in the Big Ten last season. He is not going to wow with his speed or first step ability, but he can make the tough catches across the middle or in the red zone. Stat comp: Top level-Kenny Britt; Low level-Josh Reed
B.J. Cunningham (Michigan State) Fellow Big Ten playmaker, B.J. Cunningham, could be a great steal in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. His production at Michigan State passed the marks set by previous Spartans' Derrick Mason, Mushin Muhammad, Andre Rison and Plaxico Burress. Some scouts have compared Cunningham to former Michigan State teammate Devin Thomas, who was drafted in 2008 in the second round. Thomas has been a draft bust since entering the league, furthermore he was one-year wonder with a One Year Index rating of 93%. NFL teams should have stayed away from him like the bubonic plague. Cunningham's One Year Index rating of 36% lies in the optimal range. Stat comp: Marques Colston
SLOT MEN/SPECIAL TEAMERS:
T.Y. Hilton (Florida International) and Eric Page (Toledo) In the past few years, these smaller, quick, first-step players in the mold of Darren Sproles have been drafted higher than they should have been. Dexter McCluster and Armanti Edwards are the two prime examples of teams looking to draft a smaller, speedy back that can also play receiver as a potential matchup nightmare in the NFL. This year's draft may have some better options. Both of these players can be excellent slot receivers in the NFL, in addition to prime special teams standouts. Both players averaged over 27 yards a kickoff return during their careers. Hilton has six special teams TDs to his college resume and Page has five special team TDs.
Top 5 Tight Ends
I’m curious to see what the reaction of NFL clubs will be this year to the tight end position. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were dynamic forces from the tight end position last season and in just their second seasons. This year's class has a great deal of athletic tight ends that could be big, potential matchup problems and key offensive weapons. Coby Fleener and Ladarius Green lead this year's group of promising tight ends.
1. Coby Fleener (Stanford): Coming from a pro-style offense in college, which used multiple tight end formations, Fleener is prepared to handle the nuisances and responsibilities of the NFL. At 6'6" and 247 lbs., to go along with his 4.45 40 time, he will be a tough matchup for linebackers to cover in space and for defensive secondary players to tackle. He averaged 19.6 yards-per-reception and had ten TDs last year. Fleener is an above average run blocker. He does have a mean streak in him and a willingness to drag would-be tacklers a few extra yards to pick up critical yardage.
2. Ladarius Green (Louisiana): In the same mold as Fleener, Ladarius Green is 6'6" and 240 lbs. with excellent pass catching abilities. With 148 career receptions for over 2,200 career receiving yards, he out-produced any of the other tight ends in this year's draft. In the All-Pro Report, I point out the fact that small schools prospects should dominate and that is exactly what Green did. He needs coaching in run blocking, for he played in a spread, passing-orientated offense. He could turn out to be a huge offense weapon if the right team selects him. I would project him to go in the second round. Anything after that he is a steal.
3. Dwayne Allen (Clemson): The John Mackey Award winner and First Team All-American, Dwayne Allen has the skills and talent to be the top tight end in this year's class. With 93 career receptions, 1079 career receiving yards and 12 TDs, he was a consistent producer for Clemson. His route running abilities are at the top of this year's class of tight ends. He would excel in the H-Back style position similar to Chris Cooley's role.
4. Orson Charles (Georgia) : Charles is a bit undersized, but he does have the speed and athletic ability to be compared to many of today's top NFL tight ends. A two-year starter in the SEC, Charles had 94 career receptions for 1,370 receiving yards and 10 TDs. If he had stayed for his senior season, he would have been the top rated tight end on my board next year. His strengths come in his pass blocking abilities and his team leadership skills. He was voted to the SEC Academic Honor Roll and won the Georgia Team Leadership Award.
5. Michael Egnew (Missouri) : The Missouri Tigers have been producing tight ends at a fairly decent rate the past few seasons. In 2009, Chase Coffman was taken in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals and in 2008, the Cleveland Browns selected Martin Rucker. Neither one of these players has necessarily set the league on fire with his play. I believe Egnew is better than his alumni counterparts. At 6'5" and 252 lbs., he has the frame to be a dominant force in the red zone and across the middle of the field. For his career, Egnew had 147 receptions for 1,332 receiving yards and 8 TDs. Coming from a spread offense, he should be suited for the passing game in the NFL, but will need to work on his run blocking. In pass protection, he is susceptible to outside speed rushers and will need to work on his overall foot work in this area.
Top 5 Offensive Tackles
With a good crop of quality offensive tackles in this year's draft, a number of NFL teams looking for help on the edges of the offensive line should walk away with a player or two who can step in and start. With the likes of Matt Kalil, Jonathan Martin and Riley Reiff there are three possible first round picks at the left tackle spot. On the right side, Bobby Massie and Brandon Mosley lead the rankings.
Top 5 Left Tackles
1. Matt Kalil (USC)
2. Jonathan Martin (Stanford)
3. Riley Reiff (Iowa)
4. Nate Potter (Boise State)
5. Mitchell Schwartz (California)
Top 4 Right Tackles
1. Bobby Massie (Mississippi)
2. Brandon Mosley (Auburn)
3. Zebrie Sanders (Florida State)
4. Tom Bergstorm (Utah)
Tackle Overview: Matt Kalil is unquestionably the best left tackle in this year's class. He is blessed with a 6'7", 309 lbs. frame and quick feet. Kalil has a strong punch and has excellent body control that has allowed him to silence some of the nation's top pass rushers the last three seasons protecting Matt Barkley's blind side. Kalil led an offensive line that only allowed eight sacks last season... Jonathan Martin is a technique-driven pass protector who is quick enough to handle outside speed rushers. His greatest strengths come in the form of run blocking and getting to the second level to create running lanes and allow his teammates wide running lanes. Martin led an offensive line unit which only allowed 11 sacks all season... Riley Reiff comes from a productive tradition of offensive lineman at Iowa. If Penn State is called "Linebacker U," then Iowa should be called "O-Line U." A former tight end, Reiff shows really quick feet and strong balance. He has strong hands and, on more than one occasion, was able to toss some of the elite Big Ten talents around... Nate Potter is a four-year starter from one of the nation's most prolific offenses in the country. As the leader of the offensive line, he and his teammates only allowed 0.7 sacks a game this past season. A two time All-American, Potter is game tested and could be a steal in the mid rounds of the upcoming NFL draft... Mitchell Schwartz is a superb left tackle from Cal. He has 51 games of experience under his belt with 35 starts at the left tackle position. He does a good job at setting a wide base on pass protection which allows him to absorb his defender. His strength comes in the form of run blocking where Schwartz shows fantastic ability at sealing the edge and moving the piles.
Top 5 Guards
The offensive guard position is one of depth and strength in this year's draft class. With David DeCastro, Kevin Zeitler and Cody Glenn heading the list, the teams who need interior line help can find it in the first few rounds of the draft.
Top 5 Offensive Guards
1. David DeCastro (Stanford)
2. Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin)
3. Cody Glenn (Georgia)
4. Brandon Washington (Miami)
5. Kelechi Osemele (Iowa State)
Guard Overview: David DeCastro from Stanford is clearly the best guard in this year's draft class. He is being compared to other top NFL guards such as Carl Nicks and Steve Hutchinson. DeCastro is a road grater on the offensive line when it comes to run blocking and he can handle top interior pass rushers with no problems. In a pinch, he can be a backup center in case of emergencies... Kevin Zeitler never gave up a sack in four years at Wisconsin. At 6'4" and 315 lbs., he has great size and ability to hold his own in the NFL. Coming from Wisconsin, he will be prepared and able to handle the rigors of an NFL season... Cody Glenn would normally be the top interior lineman in most season's draft classes. At 6'6" and 345 lbs., he is a massive young man who does not get pushed back into the pocket. Will he be able to maintain a decent weight so he can continue with his ability to be an effective pull/trap blocker in the NFL? Long-term, he would probably be best suited not to play in a zone-blocking scheme for that reason... Brandon Washington is a stout, hard-nosed lineman who has a high football IQ. He only had three penalties against him in 2011... Kelechi Osemele is a raw player, but one who has shown signs of taking his game to the next level. Osemele is a wrecking ball as a run blocker, cleaning out anyone or anything that gets in his way. With some seasoning and coaching, he could turn out to be a quality starting offensive guard in the NFL.
Top 5 Centers
In looking for the next Jeff Saturday or Matt Birk, I try to focus on players who are good in both pass protection and run blocking skills. I also want to look for a guy who is a team leader and who has the experience in making calls at the line of scrimmage. Players such as Peter Konz and David Molk fit the criteria of the top centers in this year's draft.
Top 5 Offensive Centers
1. Peter Konz (Wisconsin)
2. David Molk (Michigan)
3. Ben Jones (Georgia)
4. Michael Brewster (Ohio State)
5. William Vlachos (Alabama)
Center Overview: Konz is a three-year starter at center who excels in run blocking and has above average pass blocking abilities. Wisconsin ranked 11th nationally in rushing offense and has been one of the nation's top rushing offenses since he took over the center reigns three years ago... Molk is the type of player that you love on your team, but you hate to play against. His style reminds me of former Atlanta Falcon and Seattle Seahawks center, Robbie Tobeck. With 42 career starts, Molk led an offensive line that finished 12th in rushing offense last year. He has the ability to be a long term starter in the NFL... Jones, is a four-year starter who took Georgia's young, sophomore quarterback, Aaron Murray, under his wing and took charge of the offensive line. Jones is a very durable player who never missed a game at Georgia. I wouldn't be surprised to see him have a long career in the NFL... Brewster showed he can shut down some of the nation's elite interior lineman over the past four seasons. Brewster never gave up a sack or a tackle for loss to Penn State's Devon Still and was able to keep Michigan State's Jerel Worthy from making any significant impact in ames they played. A tough, dependable scrappy player, Brewster may be a bit of an overachiever... Vlachos is a three-year starter on a two time national championship team. According to the University of Alabama, Vlachos only missed eight assignments in 737 total snaps. He was responsible for making all the identification and calls up front. He isn't the most athletic specimen, but he consistently has been able to get the job done and produce at a high level against the nation's toughest defenses.
Top 5 Defensive Tackles
This is one of the deepest, most talented positions in this year's NFL Draft class. With players like Kendall Reyes, Jerel Worthy and Fletcher Cox leading the way, this unit has the ability to create some damage next season.
1. Kendall Reyes (Connecticut): Using the statistical benchmarks set forth in the DT Report for both an individual and team level, Reyes meets most of the individual requirements for a high round draft pick as well as ALL of the team rush defense benchmarks. With 110 tackles, 35 tackles for loss and 18 sacks for his career, Reyes shows the skill set required of a future dominating interior defensive lineman. Combined with his individual statistics, his team defensive stats are just as impressive. Last year, with Reyes leading the charge, Connecticut only gave up 1,028 yards rushing, an average of 85.7 yards per game and 11 TDs. With his production and skill set, he can be a destructive force in the NFL. Stat comp: B.J. Raji.
2. Devon Still (Penn State): A 6'5" and 303 lbs., Still was consistently being double and sometime triple teamed by opposing offenses. He was still able to make plays in the backfield and his run stuffing abilities are evident in his 33.5 career tackles for loss. Penn State's defense gave up 1,733 rushing yards last season - roughly 133 yards-per-game - and 13 rushing TDs. Though Penn State has had a recent history of draft busts at the defensive tackle position (Jimmy Kennedy and Anthony Adams in 2003, etc.). Still might be the Nittany Lion to make the jump into the NFL and produce at a high level. Stat comp: Brandon Mebane.
3. Jerel Worthy (Michigan State): His game tape is a lot of hot and cold, meaning sometimes he springs to life and makes some amazing plays, and, other times, he disappears from the game altogether. He does possess a high degree of football intelligence and that is evident in a number of cases. Worthy will call hot-routes and line shifts to his teammates. From an individual stat level, he doesn't measure up to some of the elite DTs in the NFL. From a team standpoint, he showed his true colors. Last season, Worthy led his Michigan State Spartans in holding opposing offense run production to 1,407 yards - 100.5 rushing yards per-game - and 11 rushing TDs. These are very impressive figures considering he was going against some of the nation's top rushing offenses in the country (Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Georgia).
4. Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State): As a junior, Fletcher Cox could have used another year in college and he would have been the top rated player at the defensive tackle position next year. His individual stats miss the benchmark set in all categories. Cox, does show an impressive skill set as he has been adept at blocking kicks with a career total of five. With a few years of solid coaching and working on his craft, Cox could turn out to be a quality pick. Some scouts rave about his pass rushing ability, but, with only 7.5 sacks in his career, it is more talk than action.
5. Josh Chapman (Alabama): Someone in the Alabama defense was eating up offensive blockers while Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower roamed the field and made highlight plays. Josh Chapman was the silent hero of that dominant Alabama defense. Alabama had a defense so stingy against the run that the Crimson Tide only gave up 938 yards all season - an average of 72.2 yards per game - and 3 rushing TDs. In fact, Alabama only gave up 200 yards rushing in one game all season and it just happened to be the game which Chapman sat out with an injury. You probably won't see his name on the top of any stat sheet next season, but his teammates will love him and so will his coaches. Stat comp: Kris Jenkins.
Top 5 Pass Rushers
This year's crop of pass rushers is a talent-rich pool with more than a few players meeting all the benchmarks set forth in the Pass Rushers Report. With players like Quinton Coples, Melvin Ingram and Nick Perry, the next wave of pass rushers in the NFL looks strong. Whitney Mercilus from Illinois does not meet the baseline and is a player teams should avoid.
1. Quinton Coples (DE, North Carolina): Coples production of 23 career sacks, 40.5 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles meet and, in some cases exceed, the benchmarks set forth in the Pass Rushers Report. At 6'6", 284 lbs., he is a three-down lineman who has the ability, history and opportunity to be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL. Some teams have worried about his drop in production this past season. In 2011 he amassed 7.5 sacks and 15 TFL, which is still a quality season by any sort of statistical measurement. Stat comp: Justin Tuck. Historically: Clyde Simmons.
2. Melvin Ingram (DE/OLB, South Carolina): As a hybrid player pegged as either a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end, Ingram can step in and be a pass rushing force from day one. Though not as physically imposing as Aldon Smith, last year's sack leader amongst rookies, Ingram has the ability and the makeup to be a similar impact rookie. Smith was a situational pass rusher for the San Francisco 49ers' defense and Ingram should be given the same sort of role in his rookie campaign. He exceeds the benchmarks set forth in the Pass Rushers Report with 21.5 career sacks. His One-Year Wonder Index rating is a solid 47%. I would have liked to see him have a higher total of tackles for a loss. His true measure shows up in his pass rushing abilities. He has a great deal of power - getting his opposing offensive lineman off balance - and more than just one pass rushing move (spin, bull rush, and speed rush). Stat comp: Shawn Merriman and Brian Orakpo.
3. Nick Perry (DE, USC): Perry is the perfect size for a 4-3 defensive end, at 6'3" and 270 lbs. He has shown the ability to set the edge as a run stuffer and attack the quarterback on passing situations. He was a consistent performer in college with 21.5 career sacks and five forced fumbles, which all meet the criteria of what teams are looking for in a defensive end. In 2011, he had 9.5 sacks, 13 TFL, and 3 FF. Stat comp: John Abraham.
4. Courtney Upshaw (DE/OLB, Alabama): It wouldn't surprise me to find out, in a few years, that Courtney Upshaw is the most dominant pass rusher from this year's draft class. As a hybrid DE/OLB at 6'2", 271 lbs., some scouts are having a hard time envisioning his role on their team's defense. Here is a suggestion: tell him to concentrate on rushing the QB, because he is pretty damn good at it. With 17.5 career sacks and 36.5 TFL, he has shown the ability to get to the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage. In addition to making the tackle, he had six career forced fumbles, which shows he is looking at more than just creating a highlight hit, but also looking to cause a turnover and make a difference in the ball game. Stat comp: Trent Cole.
5. Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall): Curry is a player who shoots out of his three-point stance like a bullet. He is your classic, hard-working, bring your lunch pail type of football player who is a tenacious pass rusher. Offensive tackles better be prepared, because he is going to throw every move plus the kitchen sink for the entire game. With 26.5 career sacks, 49 TFL and, most surprisingly, ten forced fumbles, Curry was a destructive force in college and, in the right system, could be a powerful force in the NFL. Stat comp: LaMarr Woodley
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Bruce Irvin (DE/OLB West Virginia): Irvin is a possible one-year wonder with an index rating of 62%, but, with 22.5 career sacks, he also may have just scratched the surface of his pass rushing ability.
Julian Miller (OLB, West Virginia): Teammates with Irvin, 27.5 career sacks puts Miller in rare company with some of the all-time great sack artists in the NFL. He might be a steal in the later rounds of the draft.
Cordarro Law (OLB, Southern Mississippi): With 28 career sacks, 54 tackles for loss and 14 forced fumbles, Law put up some impressive numbers at Southern Miss. Law is a possible late round or undrafted free agent pick that could shine in the right system or right coaching staff.
Whitney Mercilus (DE, Illinois): Every year, there seems to be some flash-in-the-pan pass rusher who has one good season and gets catapulted to the first round. Players such as Vernon Gholston, Aaron Maybin and Derrick Morgan are just a few of the one-year wonders who have been busts over the past few years. That trio of draft busts has One-Year Wonder index ratings (percentage of production in best season) of: Gholston (67%), Maybin (75%) and Morgan (64%). Whitney Mercilus' One-Year Wonder index is 89%. There hasn't been an elite pass rusher come into the NFL in the past two decades with a rating this high. Teams should avoid him and let him slide right out of the draft.
Defensive Ends in a 3-4:
Jared Crick (DT/DE, Nebraska): Though he had an injury plagued senior season with a torn pectoral muscle, Crick fits perfectly as a 3-4 defensive end. He has passing ability, which is evident by his 20 career sacks, to go along with 29 tackles for loss. For defensive coordinators who are creative, he can slide inside on obvious passing situations and give teams an above average interior pass rusher.
Derek Wolfe (DT/DE, Cincinnati): At 6'5" and 300 lbs., Wolfe is a bit of a "tweener" from a defensive tackle position in a 4-3 or a defensive end in a 3-4. Either way, he can hold his own against the run. Wolfe amassed 27 tackles for loss throughout his career. He has above average pass rushing skills for a guy his size, with 19.5 career sacks in college. A mid-round selection could bring a powerful inside pass rushing force to whichever team selects him.
Top 5 Inside Linebackers
The talent pool is a bit shallow this season for traditional inside linebackers. The top two players are Luke Kuechly and Dont'a Hightower. They are two premier players who should be able to step in and be starters in the NFL for years to come.
1. Luke Kuechly (Boston College): Having played the least number of career games of any other inside linebacker in this year's draft, Kuechly was still able to produce at an elite level. He has 532 career tackles, which is 87 more than the second leading tackler for inside linebackers. An NFL GM told me that when he scouts middle linebackers, he looks for a player who has the ability and history of getting interceptions. He believed so much of the middle linebacker position is to run down field with the tight end or drop into coverage that they must have good coverage abilities to go along with some pass catching skills. Kuechly has seven career interceptions. He is an all-around solid defender who has shown a high degree of football intelligence, work ethic, and physical abilities to compete at a high level. He should have a successful, long term career in the NFL.
2. Dont'a Hightower (Alabama): A tackling machine at Alabama, who Nick Saban allowed to roam sideline-to-sideline pummeling would-be ball carriers. At 6'2" and 265 lbs., he is a destructive force when he gets his wheels moving. When reviewing his game tape, what initially jumps out is his ability to shed would-be blockers, slip into the gap, and find the ball carrier. As only a two-year starter, his career 21 tackles for loss are very impressive. He is perfectly suited to play inside on a 3-4 defense.
3. Bobby Wagner (Utah State): I like to refer to Bobby Wagner as the "Little Engine That Could." At 6'0" tall and 241 lbs., he isn't the most impressive physical specimen to play football, but he is all over the field making plays. Last season, Wagner had 147 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and two interceptions. He showed his strength to start the season against Auburn where he had nine tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. He will be able to step in and be a leader in special teams as well. Give him some time to understand the game and he could be a great find in the middle rounds of the draft.
4. Tank Carder (TCU): There have been five linebackers from TCU since 2009 to be drafted (or who will likely be drafted this year) and Tank Carder is the best of all of them. He posted solid career numbers with 182.5 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 25 tackles for loss. He played in a defensive system that is run in a 4-2-5 scheme, which causes him to take on blockers and occupy gaps, so his play making opportunities are diminished compared to linebackers playing in a 3-4 or a 4-3 schemes. For his career, he had 19 pass breakups. Carder excels at covering running backs and tight ends down he field.
5. Mychal Kendricks (California): The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Kendricks has a knack for slicing his way through a pile and getting to the football. With 259 career tackles, 13.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss, Kendricks proves his ability in being successful at going after the ball carrier. Having played in a 3-4 defense in college, he would be well-suited in step right in a play the inside linebacker spot for a 3-4 defense in the NFL.
1. Morris Claiborne (LSU): Most of the press coverage surrounding the LSU defense the past two years has been about Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Morris Claiborne has quietly established himself as on the of the best man-to-man cover corners coming out of college football since Darrelle Revis. Though teams consistently avoided throwing his way, he was still able to keep his concentration and leave college with 11 interceptions for his career. Once he understands the nuances and defensive gameplans, it won't be long before an NFL team feels comfortable putting him out on his own island.
2. Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama): He has the size, speed and physical power to become an elite cornerback. Kirkpatrick's athletic ability jumps off the tape, with his ability to play man-coverage, Kirkpatrick allowed Nick Saban's defense to put unrelenting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. At 6'2", he should be able to handle being matched up on the outside, alone in the NFL. The only knock on Kirkpatrick is away from the football field. Nick Saban runs a tight ship down in Alabama. For Kirkpatrick's sake, I hope he joins a team with strong veteran leadership that keeps him in line.
3. Casey Hayward (Vanderbilt): Vanderbilt isn't known for producing top level cornerbacks. Hayward is a three-year starter and was an absolute ball hawk with 15 career interceptions, tied for most amongst defensive backs in this year's draft class. Opposing offenses continued to test him, and he responded with 46 pass break ups. His slight frame could be an issue in run support, but he more than makes up for it in with his coverage skills.
4. Josh Robinson (UCF): In just 38 games, lightning fast Josh Robinson shutdown opposing team's top wide receivers. With ten career interceptions and 46 pass break ups, he possesses elite coverage skills. Robinson tested off the charts at the NFL Combine, running a 4.33 40-time. At 5'10", his height could be an issue against the taller wide outs in the NFL, but he doesn't lack the confidence to take on any challengers.
5. Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina): Gilmore started 40 games over the past four seasons. For his career, he recorded seven sacks, which is the highest amongst defensive backs in this year's class. At 6'1" and 192 lbs., I would like to see him become stronger in press coverage. He excels at playing zone coverage, but he tends to get beat going against faster, quicker wide receivers running deep routes. Gilmore is an aggressive tackler and is more than willing to lower his shoulder and be aggressive.
Top 5 Safeties
Safety is probably the weakest position in the entire draft class. Mark Barron from Alabama is the top rated prospect. With teams needing help in the secondary, someone may want to reach for him because the next rated prospect isn't worth a first round pick.
1. Mark Barron (SS, Alabama): As the leader in career interceptions amongst this year's draft class of safeties, Mark Barron firmly stands atop as the leader. To go along with his interception totals, Barron posted 13 tackles for loss and 22 pass break ups for his career. His abilities to locate the football and make a play are what really separate him from the rest of the pack. Barron is very strong against the run and was brought into the box as an extra defender often last season. He has elite tackling ability, perfect form tackles and almost never lets go of the ball carrier. He comes from a complex defense and he should be prepared to start right away in the NFL.
2. Markelle Martin (FS, Oklahoma State): A fantastic athletic skill set has led Martin to rack up 39 pass breakups throughout his career, tops amongst this year's safety class. He has a knack for coming up big in big games. In the Fiesta Bowl versus Stanford, he had 8 tackles, one tackle for loss and was able to show coverage skills against the nation's top TE in Coby Fleener. Against Baylor this year, Martin was able to keep Kendall Wright out of the end zone and helped cause Robert Griffin III to turn the ball over twice. Martin is projected as a free safety at the next level.
3. Harrison Smith (SS, Notre Dame): As a four-year starter at Notre Dame, Smith displayed excellent coverage abilities. With 35 career pass break ups and seven career interceptions to his credit, Smith showed he can handle being the last line of defense. His 6'2", 212 lbs. frame should match up well against today's taller, elite WRs. For all his coverage skills, Smith is a dynamic run stopper and shows a willingness to get down in the trenches and stuff the run. He will bring great flexibility to any defense and is projected to be a starting SS in this league.
4. George Iloka (FS, Boise State): A tough, durable player, Iloka didn't miss a game in the four years he played at Boise State. At 6'3", he has the size and capability to matchup with NFL tight ends. He showed a great deal of ability at locating and tracking the ball in the air, along with making up significant space to make a play. As a former linebacker, Iloka excels at coming up and being a factor in the running game. At the very least, he will be an excellent addition to any NFL club's special teams unit and, down the road, could be an above average safety.
5. Antonio Allen (SS, South Carolina): Allen played primarily as an in the box defender in 2011. Last season, he had 88 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Allen will need to work on his pass coverage skills and was susceptible to the play-action fake which caused him to lose sight of the wide receiver and give up big plays on a number of occasions last season.