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2013 NFL Draft Prospect Watch: Week 4

The college football season is just starting to really get going as the in-conference part of the schedule is now underway and more of the top teams and top prospects will start to get on the field with one another. This week’s head to head matchups won’t feature any prospects directly defending one another, but will instead showcase a pair of battles involving five marquee players that will be in direct competition with each other for early draft position and to be the first selected at their individual position. The first matchup to watch will be LSU’s pair of elite pass-rushers, OLB/DE Barkevious Mingo and DE Sam Montgomery as they’ll put their skills on display while Auburn’s DE/OLB Corey Lemonier will do the same on the other side of the field. In the second matchup, two of the top three wide receivers in the nation will do battle as USC’s Robert Woods and California’s Keenan Allen will try to out do one another with every ball thrown their way. And in the feature game of the week #10 Clemson will head to Tallahassee to take on #4 Florida State in the ACC’s game of the year and one that will include highly ranked prospects like Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes and Andre Ellington.

Best Head to Head Matchup to Watch: LSU OLB/DE Barkevious Mingo and DE Sam Montgomery vs. Auburn DE/OLB Corey Lemonier @ Jordan Hare Stadium, USC WR Robert Woods vs. California WR Keenan Allen @ Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Three of the top pass-rushers in the nation will be on the field together on Saturday. LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery along with Auburn’s Corey Lemonier all rank among the top fifteen draft eligible prospects with Mingo being considered as high as the top three. Mingo might be the most raw of the three given that he didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school, but he’s also the most naturally gifted pass-rusher and probably has the highest ceiling. As a former track star, it’s Mingo’s speed that really sets him apart as he is able to explode off the snap and fly past the offensive lineman he’s lined up against and get to the quarterback. Mingo is a physical freak with good height and exceptionally long arms that allow him to be quite effective at knocking the ball down in what appear to be open passing lanes. In just a short amount of time, he has displayed the awareness and instincts of a kid who has played the game his entire life. Scouts love his combination of size, speed and athleticism which allows him the versatility to play multiple positions among the front seven. Across from Mingo stands Sam Montgomery, LSU’s 6’5, 260lb. sack leader in 2011. After tearing the ACL in his right knee in 2010, Montgomery came back with a fury last year as team’s featured pass-rusher often taking on the opponent’s best blocker. He’s a big-time playmaker with great speed and a good frame to go with his hard-working attitude. Montgomery has the look of a natural 4-3 defensive end at the next level and still has a lot of room to get even better. While Mingo and Montgomery are just two of LSU’s star-studded defense, Corey Lemonier is the lone standout on Auburn’s defense and his play often determines whether they’ll be able to win the game or not. He carries the load of their defense and is often relied upon to come up with big play after big play to keep Auburn in the game. While he plays as a 4-3 defensive end in college, he projects better as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL given his lack of ideal size. He’s an explosive pass-rusher with a bevy of exciting skills that allow him to get into the backfield and make a play on the quarterback or ball-carrier. He doesn’t just live in the opponent’s backfield as he is also able to make some of his best plays chasing ball-carriers further downfield. All three are among the best at their position and should be expected to come off the board early in this pass-rusher filled draft.

While a trio of pass-rushers will be on display on one side of the country, a pair of star wide receivers will be the focus on the other side. USC’s Robert Woods and California’s Keenan Allen will showcase their exceptional talents and do battle for top spot among draft-eligible wide outs. Like the trio of SEC pass-rushers, Woods and Allen both rank among the top fifteen or so prospects on most draft boards along with Tennessee WR Justin Hunter. Both Woods and Allen catch the ball with ease and are as dependable as you can get, but they are different types of receiver from one another. Woods is the smaller of the two and relies more on his quickness and intelligence and is probably the more dynamic playmaker. Woods is able to use his outstanding route running to be effective in the slot, while he also has the speed to stretch the defense deep and has shown the uncanny ability to make extraordinary plays along the sidelines and in the corners of the end zone. Allen on the other hand is a big, strong down the field wide receiver that uses his size advantage, athleticism and strong hands to outmuscle smaller defensive backs and go up and get the football. Allen has the look of a Vincent Jackson-type of receiver should he add a few more pounds of muscle to his frame. As for Saturday night, Allen will have the tougher task of the two to look good as he’ll have to line up against USC CB Nickell Robey, who ranks among the top-100 prospects while also keeping an eye out for one of the top safeties in the nation in FS T.J. McDonald.

Best Game to Watch for Prospects: #10 Clemson Tigers vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles @ Doak Campbell Stadium

The game of the year in the ACC between Clemson and Florida State will go down Saturday night in prime time with a national television audience. The stage couldn’t be much bigger for a regular season game for the draft eligible prospects competing as the majority of NFL scouts will be watching. There are quite a few notable prospects between these two schools with probably at least five players that could go in the first few rounds of the draft. Florida State features perhaps the most intriguing prospect in the draft in DE Bjoern Werner. The German-born pass-rusher has quickly made a name for himself over the past season and a bit putting up some fantastic numbers including 6.5 sacks already through the first three games of this season. Werner is a strong, powerful pass-rusher, but also uses his strength just as well when facing the run. He possesses an endless motor and an incredible passion for the sport. He’s currently being rated all over the place by different scouts from as high as the top ten to further down draft boards, but it seems that the majority of scouts view him as a first round talent. All eyes will be firmly on him now that his teammate and FSU’s leading sack artist from 2011, DE Brandon Jenkins is out for the season with a foot injury. He will now be the main focus of opposing offensive lines and defensive coordinators and is likely to face more and more double teams from here on out. How he handles himself without Jenkins, who would’ve likely been a second round pick before his season-ending injury, will have a major effect on where he might land in the draft. The injury to Jenkins has not only affected Werner, but also senior DE Cornellius Carradine, who’s moved into the starting lineup and has quickly generated buzz and consideration among the top-100 prospects. He’s a talented, versatile pass-rusher from either side of the line that has shown an ability to repeatedly get to the quarterback. After Werner, CB Xavier Rhodes is FSU’s next top prospect and a potential second round selection. An imposing, physical corner, Rhodes is about the last guy receivers want to face. He likes to get aggressive and rough up opposing wide outs immediately off the line of scrimmage and is a more than willing tackler and big hitter. The best thing is he’s a great cover corner too. He’ll definitely be tested Saturday night, especially with his speed as Clemson features two blazing fast receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins.  DT Everett Dawkins is also a player to watch for the Seminoles and could be a potential late third round pick.

For Clemson, they have a pair of talented playmakers to watch in WR Hopkins and RB Andre Ellington for the 2013 NFL Draft. They would have a third, if the team’s best player, WR Sammy Watkins was draft-eligible, but the super sophomore will have to wait until at least the 2014 draft. Hopkins is an extremely fast wide receiver that is devastating with the ball in open space. He has fantastic footwork and body control that allow him to make defenders miss and extend plays for more yards after the catch. That body control along with his large hands allow him to go up and make the difficult catches look easy. He’s not completely polished just yet and still needs to improve his route-running, but Hopkins is sure to intrigue some teams selecting in the second or third round. One of the top running backs available for the 2013 draft, Andre Ellington finally has his chance to shine as the featured back in a high scoring offense after battling for playing time with former teammates C.J. Spiller and Jamie Harper over the past three years. Speaking of Spiller, Ellington is very much the same player, although not quite as talented, but the success that his former teammate is having this year in the NFL should only help give a little boost to his draft stock. A speed back with the ability to make oncoming tacklers miss and hit the homerun play, Ellington is a dynamic playmaker whether running the ball or catching passes out of the backfield. He too should be a Day 2 draft pick.

These two teams also feature interesting quarterback prospects in FSU’s EJ Manuel and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd. Manuel appears to possess all the raw physical abilities that one would want in a quarterback including NFL prototype size and arm strength, but he has yet to live up to his immense potential despite quite a bit of playing time over the his collegiate career. In his final year of eligibility, he really has to show scouts that he finally understands what it takes to be a potential NFL quarterback. Leading Florida State to a National Title this season could do just that. For now, he sits as a possible Day 2 selection. But that’s also predicated on him showing improvement in multiple areas this season.  Tajh Boyd might have been the best player through the first eight games of last year before struggling the rest of the way specifically with his decision-making. He possesses an intriguing combination of skills including the arm strength and mobility to play at the next level, but also lacks the size most NFL teams want in their quarterback. The opportunity is there for Boyd to thrust his name into the same discussions as higher rated quarterbacks with one of the best supporting casts of offensive weapons and one of the top offensive coordinators in the sport. I expect Boyd to make the improvements necessary in his game, but I also expect to see him back at Clemson for another year of seasoning. If he does in fact enter the draft, I see him as probably a third round prospect right now.

Written By: Mark Scott

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