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2013 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT WATCH: PRO DAYS WEEK 3 RECAP

The third week of pro days for 2013 NFL Draft prospects is in the books and a number of highly anticipated players worked out for scouts. Star Lotulelei and Jarvis Jones were finally able to get on the field for NFL teams after not working out at the Combine due to injuries, while other prospects like Sharrif Floyd, Mike Glennon and the contingent out of Tennessee were on display.

MARCH 18: Houston

An incredible story emerged out of the Houston pro day where CB D.J. Hayden took to the field to show scouts from across the NFL that he is not only alive and almost completely healthy following a life-threatening injury in early November, but back playing football. In a freak accident during practice Hayden tore the main vein (inferior vena cava) in his heart and many thought he would never play again. However, Hayden made a statement on Monday when he ran the 40 in anywhere from as fast as a 4.33s to 4.24s to go along with a 33.5” inch vertical jump and 10’ foot broad jump. He had to call it a day early and was unable to perform in positional drills after pulling a hamstring in his second 40 attempt. He also wasn’t able to get on the bench press as his sternum is still recovering. Hayden was earning second and third grades from scouts before the injury and his work out on Monday washed away most of the injury concerns and probably ensured that he will be off the board by at least the fourth or fifth round.

MARCH 19: Florida State

There were 23 Seminoles on the field for NFL team reps to see with prospects like E.J. Manuel, Xavier Rhodes, Bjoern Werner and Menelik Watson working out. Notable NFL personnel on hand included New Orleans Saints DC Rob Ryan, Denver Broncos DC Jack Del Rio as well as Pittsburgh Steelers OC Todd Haley. Manuel appeared to be the feature attraction as he drew a large crowd to watch him throw various routes to teammates. Scouts still seem to be pretty split on Manuel, although he has met with 25 teams since the Senior Bowl, where he was the game’s MVP and was recently invited to attend the draft, which is often an indicator that he could be a first round pick. Rhodes, Werner and Watson stood by their Combine numbers as well, but all competed in positional drills. Rhodes struggled in cornerback drills where he slipped multiple times and dropped a couple of balls. Werner impressed scouts by performing in defensive line and linebackers drills. Pass-rusher Brandon Jenkins, who missed almost his entire Senior season after suffering a Lisfranc injury looked healthy in drills and could be an interesting mid-round selection. Cornellius ‘Tank’ Carradine did not work out as he is still recovering from a torn ACL, but is reportedly ahead of schedule and is tentatively set to work out for NFL teams on April 20. He’s probably an early second round selection.

MARCH 20: Utah, Tennessee, North Carolina State

Utah’s Star Lotulelei’s much anticipated pro day went down on Wednesday where the highly rated defensive tackle worked out in front of reps from 31 NFL teams, including defensive line coaches from at least six teams. He seemed to put to rest some of the concerns about the heart condition that prevented him from working out at the Combine, however his draft stock will probably remain in the air until he goes through the medicals at the “combine re-checks” in early April. On the field he looked great turning in a fantastic workout. He registered 38 reps on the bench press, a 30” inch vertical jump, a 4.65s short shuttle and a 7.76s in the three cone drill, while he ran a 5.31s in the 40, despite being advised to sit it out. He weighed-in at an impressive 6’3”, 314lbs with 34” inch arms. His pro day performance was positive step in forward.

The Tennessee pro day was a must-see this year as the Vols bevy of offensive talent drew representatives from all 32 NFL teams, including Oakland Raiders G.M. Reggie McKenzie, New York Jets G.M. John Idzik, St. Louis Rams G.M. Les Snead, along with Pittsburgh Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert, Head Coach Mike Tomlin and OC Todd Haley. The Steelers contingent took Tyler Bray out for a dinner meeting. Bray showed off his superior arm talent in a good workout nailing throws to all levels. He has the best arm of any quarterback in this draft, but it is the intangibles like leadership along with some maturity issues that have Bray possibly falling into the mid-rounds. His interviews with teams will be what determines where he comes off the board, but his supreme arm will cause teams to overlook some of the those other issues. It didn’t hurt that he was throwing to the best receiver corps in the nation. Two of the drafts top receivers Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter turned in terrific workouts again. Both were great at the Combine and even better at the Tennessee pro day. Patterson chose to improve his times in the shuttle drills, while Hunter improved his vertical jump to an incredible 40.5” inches and his broad jump to 11’6”. Patterson dropped a couple passes in drills and still needs to work on his route-running, while Hunter looked as smooth as ever. Unheralded Zach Rogers was one of the Bray’s most reliable targets throughout their time at Tennessee and he turned in a solid workout that should earn him a spot in the mid-rounds. Former Vols wide out Da’Rick Rogers, now of Tennessee Tech was allowed to work out at the Tennessee pro day despite being kicked off the team before last season. He improved his vertical jump to 38” inches, but kept his other numbers from the Combine. He also caught the ball very well. Tennesse-Martin’s Montori Hughes was also invited and allowed to work out and put in a good performance that should help his stock a little bit. Some scouts have said that Patterson, Hunter, Bray and Rogers (Da’Rick) could be off the board by the end of the second round. OG/OT Dallas Thomas was unable to work out because of a torn labrum that he suffered during Senior Bowl practices. He only had surgery on February 7th and is expected to be out for 4-5 months. His draft stock at this point is completely up in the air after coming into the draft process as a possibly Day 2 selection.

One of the top quarterbacks available, North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon turned in an impressive pro day on Wednesday. He ran through a pro-style passing workout that involved a number of West Coast offense-type plays along with completing multiple high-risk passes into the wind that showed off hi s fantastic arm strength. He solidified himself as a second round pick.

MARCH 21: Georgia, Stanford, Stony Brook

Utah’s Star Lotulelei wasn’t the only prospect with a highly anticipated pro day this week as Georgia’s Jarvis Jones also finally got on the field. And it wasn’t good. The nation’s leading sack artist was extremely disappointing on Thursday. He ran a slow 4.92s in the 40 and did nothing to impress anyone in any of the other measurable drills. In fact some of his numbers were only slightly better than 342lb. NT Kwame Geathers. Positional drills didn’t go much better for Jones either. His workout was so disappointing that some scouts are now considering him as a situational 4-3 defensive end only. He probably still comes off the board in the mid to late first round, but it would no longer be a surprise if he falls into the second round and will now have to rely solely on his game tape. Supremely athletic LB Alec Ogletree was excellent again and probably solidified his spot in the first round. Massive Nose Tackles John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers turned in excellent performances. They both improved their numbers in multiple drills and looked great in positional drills. Other Bulldogs prospects had solid workouts, but nobody stood out.

There were reps from 31 NFL teams, with only the Redskins not in attendance to see Stanford’s pro day. One of the drafts’ top tight ends, Zach Ertz was the main attraction. He recorded a 4.62s in the 40, a 35 ½ “ vertical jump and a 9’6” broad jump. He kept the rest of his numbers from the Combine. He also looked smooth while running routes and caught the ball exceptionally well. His draft stock probably remained the same as a likely early second round pick. Stepfan Taylor, Chase Thomas and Levine Toilolo had decent performances in their work outs.

Watch out for Stony Brook’s Miguel Maysonet. The running back drew 28 teams to the Stony Brook pro day and is skyrocketing up draft boards. Mel Kiper and Todd McShay raving about him on ESPN doesn’t hurt either. Maysonet turned in a good performance with a 4.62s in the 40, 21 reps of 225lbs. on the bench press, a 31” inch vertical jump, an 8’11” broad jump, a 4.27s short shuttle and a 7.19s in the three-cone drill. He looked very quick in running back drills and showed good hands catching the ball. He may now come off the board on Day 2 due to the high interest in him.

MARCH 22: Sharrif Floyd

Reps from 14 NFL teams, including Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie were in attendance to see Florida’s Sharrif Floyd work out and from all reports his performance was outstanding. Floyd has made the case that he is arguably the best prospect in 2013 NFL Draft and it is highly unlikely that he falls past the Raiders at the no.3 selection. NFL Network’s Charlie Casserly said he would take Floyd over Ndamukong Suh.

Written By: Mark Scott



2013 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT WATCH: BOWL GAMES PART 4 (JAN.1)

Bowl Mania continues on New Year’s Day as six games involving a boatload of draft-eligible prospects will keep scouts, front offices and fans busy all day long. The day starts out slow for prospects, but quickly picks up as the bowls grow more important and involve higher profile prospect-stocked teams. A number of highly ranked players like Bjoern Werner, Taylor Lewan, Jarvis Jones and most of the rest of the Georgia draft class will be in action. Nothing like some college football to cure a hangover.

TAXSLAYER.COM GATOR BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (9-3)

New Year’s Day starts out pretty slow for prospects in the Gator Bowl with just one highly rated player. Mississippi State CB Johnthan Banks (Sr) is an experienced corner with very good height and length that possesses the ability to play man coverage and in zone. His ball skills and instincts are among the best at the position and allow him to contribute in a number of areas and make game-changing plays. His lack of elite speed is the biggest question surrounding him right now and could keep him out of the first round, but won’t cause him to fall any further than the second. He was fantastic this season in winning the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back and enters the 2013 NFL Draft as the top senior cornerback available. After Banks the Bulldogs have a group of mid to late round prospects that includes OG Gabe Jackson (rJr), CB Darius Slay (Sr), DT Josh Boyd (Sr) and OLB Cameron Lawrence (Sr). Jackson is a mammoth offensive lineman that moves incredibly well for a man his size and absolutely mauls defenders in pass protection and especially when run blocking. He has starting potential in the NFL and could be drafted as high as the third round. He still has a year of eligibility remaining and could return to Mississippi State for another season. CB Corey Broomfield (rSr) and WR Chad Bumphis (Sr) are likely undrafted free agents. Northwestern doesn’t have any noteworthy draft-eligible prospects this season.

HEART OF DALLAS BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Purdue Boilermakers (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5)

There are even fewer prospects in the other game at noon between the Boilermakers and Cowboys, but at least each team has a noteworthy draft-eligible player in this one. Purdue DT Kawann Short (rSr) is a huge athlete with the ability to dominate a game. While he’s able to handle double-teams and clog up the middle he’s not just the typical space-eating defensive tackle, but is actually a very talented pass-rusher from the interior as evidenced by the 18.5 sacks and 48 tackles for loss he amassed over his collegiate career. He is also able to use his huge wingspan to knock down passes and block kicks on special teams. He would probably be rated as a first round pick, but major questions exist about his lack of effort game in and game out and thought that he plays too passive at times. He probably comes off the board in the second round and could end up being a steal if he can change his bad habits. Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle (Jr) is a very talented running back with explosive speed and the ability to break off big runs when he gets just a bit of open space. He also has terrific hands out of the backfield as a pass-catcher. While he showed for the second straight season that he can handle a full workload as a feature ball-carrier, he will probably be best suited as a change of pace or third down back in the NFL. Randle has the choice to return to school for his final year of eligibility, but should he declare early he could be selected as high as the third or fourth round. Purdue CB Josh Johnson (Sr) is an underrated corner and has a chance to be a seventh round pick in April.

OUTBACK BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Michigan Wolverines (8-4) vs. South Carolina Gamecocks (10-2)

The number of prospects starts to pick up with the Outback Bowl matchup pitting Big Ten against SEC when the Wolverines and Gamecocks take the field. Michigan LT Taylor Lewan (rJr) is the highest rated prospect in this game and the only one that will be drafted in the first round in April. He’s a massive blindside protector with elite athleticism and may just be the most physically imposing prospect in the draft. His technique still needs some work, but he’s extremely competitive and plays with a mean streak. He’s soared up draft boards as the season’s gone on and looks to be the clear no.2 offensive tackle prospect behind Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel could sneak into the top ten of the draft. While he played basically his entire career at Michigan as a quarterback, WR Denard Robinson (Sr) will enter the draft as a receiver, although some think he could even be moved to cornerback. It is unlikely he’ll take too many snaps at quarterback in this game if at all. Instead he will likely line up as a receiver or running back throughout the game. While the position he’ll eventually play in the NFL is still unknown at this point, what is known about him is that he is an extremely fast and dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands. He could come off the board in the first half of Day 3. Late round hopefuls for the Wolverines include DE Craig Roh (Sr) and SS Jordan Kovacs (rSr), while ILB Kenny Demens (rSr), CB J.T. Floyd (rSr) and DT William Campbell (Sr) will most likely go undrafted. Hearts are still broken for South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore (Jr) and what he’s had to go through after suffering his second brutal season-ending knee injury. In 2011 he went down with a torn ACL that he fought and rehabbed tooth and nail to come back from and did so successfully in regaining most of the form that had him rated as the top running back coming into the season. He was just starting to look completely like himself again when he went down with one of the most gruesome-looking injuries seen in sports in a while. Despite the injuries, the fact that he won’t be able to work out for anyone and another year of eligibility remaining, Lattimore has still chosen to declare early for the draft and hope for the best. His plan is to land on an NFL team and rehabilitate his knee with the best possible training staff. Is future at this point is a complete unknown. Aside from Lattimore whose draft stock is up in the air at this point, the Gamecocks feature a group of mid to late round prospects that will be playing in this game including FS D.J. Swearinger (Sr), OLB DeVonte Holloman (Sr), DE Devin Taylor (rSr) and C T.J. Johnson (rSr).

CAPITAL ONE BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3)

Perhaps more so than any other team this season the Georgia Bulldogs are a legit showcase of NFL talent with up to twelve possible 2013 draft picks, six of which that could be taken among the first four rounds. OLB Jarvis Jones (rJr) is a freak athlete that is arguably the top pass-rusher and may even be the top prospect in the entire draft. He is an explosive pass-rusher with elite speed and strength and is constantly wreaking havoc in opposing backfields and taking out the quarterback. He rounded out his game very nicely this season displaying the ability to be more effective in stopping the run and holding his own when asked to drop into pass coverage. NFL front offices and scouts have all been eagerly waiting for Jones to enter the draft to have their shot at adding him to their squad, but if teams want him they’ll have to make a move as it’s not likely he makes it out of the top five selections. He is a big-time playmaker that should be able to start and dominate right away. NT John Jenkins (Sr) is a mammoth athlete and the best pure run-stopper in the draft. He’s basically impossible to move at the point of attack and is a dominating force in the middle. He handles double-teams without a problem and is able to make a play on the ball-carrier when he gets into the backfield. He’s not the most glamorous draft pick, but he is an immediate starter that can be plugged into the starting line up right away and will instantly upgrade anyone’s run defense. Outside of Jones, ILB Alex Ogletree (Jr) was Georgia’s best defender this year. Despite missing the first four weeks of the season he still managed to lead the team with 98 tackles in just nine games and was their most consistent and reliable player. He’s an outstanding athlete with the ability to make plays sideline to sideline whether chasing ball-carriers or dropping into pass coverage.  He possesses an excellent combination of size, length and speed and has the versatility to play multiple linebacker positions. His length especially has some scouts thinking that he could be a highly effective pass-rushing outside linebacker in the NFL. While Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is the top ranked inside linebacker, Ogletree and his incredible athleticism is not far behind and may even be a more dynamic player than Te’o at the next level. He is a likely first round pick should he decide to declare a year early for the draft. QB Aaron Murray (rJr) is a tough, athletic quarterback with very good arm strength and clean mechanics, but he has struggles with his decision-making at times and lack ideal NFL size. He’s a confident kid with talent and could make for a nice developmental quarterback behind an established starter. A number of the quarterback prospects are closely jockeying for position with Murray likely a third or fourth round pick. Jones, Ogletree and Murray could all elect to return to school for their senior year, but only Murray is a real candidate to do that with Jones and Ogletree considered first round locks. The Bulldogs secondary is well represented with FS Bacarri Rambo (rSr) and SS Shawn Williams (Sr). Rambo is a playmaking safety that can lay the wood when delivering big hits and create turnovers in the secondary using his terrific instincts and ball skills. He’s constantly in the middle of the play making something happen. Williams is a smart, productive player that always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He’s a guy that coaches don’t have to worry about where is head is at and rarely makes mental errors. He’s a reliable safety that teams will know what they’re getting with him. Both safeties have the potential to be starters in the NFL and could be selected as high as the third round. A number of Georgia’s possible draft picks will be potential Day 3 selections including DT Abry Jones (Sr), WR Tavarres King (rSr), CB Sanders Commings (rSr), OLB Cornelius Washington (rSr) and CB Branden Smith (Sr). ILB Christian Robinson (rSr) will probably end up an undrafted free agent. The Cornhuskers have a pair of their own possible late Day 3 draft picks in RB Rex Burkhead (Sr) and FS Damion Stafford (Sr). Burkhead is a thick, power back with the ability to plow his way through the line for the hard yards inside or use his speed to make big plays on the outside with his feet or hands. He showed in 2011 that he can be a feature back, but this season he was constantly battling injuries causing him to miss six games and saw his production take a major dip. He’s probably a sixth round pick. Stafford will most likely join Burkhead in the last couple rounds of the draft. He is an underrated consistent defender that is at his best in run support and is decent in pass coverage, but could stand to make improvements in that area. He’s not going to blow any scouts away with his athleticism, but could be a solid special-teams and depth player that might come off the board late in the draft. Behind them is group of players that will likely go undrafted, but could sneak into the late portion of the draft including DE Eric Martin (Sr), K Brett Maher (Sr), ILB Will Compton (rSr) and DT Baker Steinkuhler (rSr).

ROSE BOWL GAME PRESENTED BY VIZIO, JANUARY 1/2013

Stanford Cardinal (11-2) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (8-5)

The 99th Rose Bowl will showcase two tough, smash mouth-types of teams in Stanford and Wisconsin and the seven prospects involved are perfect examples of that type of player. Stanford will feature one potential late first round pick to go with three others that could be mid-round selections. After taking over for Cody Fleener (Indy Colts), TE Zach Ertz (rJr) proved this season that he was an even better and more complete player than his former teammate. He showed off his big, soft hands and route-running ability in leading all FBS tight ends with 66 catches for 837 receiving yards, both school records, while adding six touchdowns. He’s not just another pass-catching tight end either after elevating himself into a dominant blocker this year. Ertz will be in close competition with Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert for the top spot among tight ends and could sneak into the late first round. Stanford’s linebacker combination of OLB Chase Thomas (rSr) and ILB Shayne Skov (Sr) are a pair of hard-nosed, intelligent defenders. Thomas constantly causes chaos at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield. He’s not an elite athlete, but makes up for that with high-energy all-out effort on every down. He’s the type of football player every team would want and could go as high as the late second round. Skov is a notch or two below Thomas, but is still a very good football player. He is solid in run support and can provide a pass-rush from the middle when called upon. Skov has a red flag or two off the field and should be taken in the first half of Day 3. RB Stepfan Taylor (Sr) is a workhorse back that has proven over the last three seasons that he can handle full-time duties at the position with three straight seasons of at least 1100 rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns. He’s also a running back that doesn’t need to come off the field on third down as he has proven to be a talented pass-catcher out of the back field with 91 receptions for 718 yards and five scores. He’s a tough athlete with a thick, powerful frame built to handle the rigors of the NFL. He could be selected in the late third/early fourth round. Late round hopefuls for Stanford include WR Drew Terrell (Sr) and C Sam Schwartzstein (rSr). The Badgers will feature three mid-round draft choices in RB Montee Ball (Sr), OT Ricky Wagner (rSr) and OC/OG Travis Frederick (Jr). In the end it seems like Ball’s highly publicized decision to return to school for his senior season didn’t hurt him much after all as he earned a similar third round draft grade to the one he received last year. Like Taylor, Ball is a workhorse back that can handle 30+ carries a game, while often contributing with his hands on third down. Ball compiled an amazing 5040 career rushing yards with an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns with 76 and most total touchdowns with 82, including 39 total scores in 2011 to tie Barry Sanders’ single season NCAA record. While Ball is a highly talented running back with the potential to be feature ball-carrier in the NFL, he has already put 900 carries on his body heading into the Rose Bowl. His collegiate workload could have an effect on his draft position, but will definitely have an effect on his career long-term. He’s a third or fourth round pick. Ricky Wagner and Travis Frederick will continue the Wisconsin tradition of sending talented, rugged offensive linemen to the NFL. These two are absolute maulers at the line of scrimmage and have the ability to just destroy oncoming defenders when run blocking. They are big, strong and as mean as it gets with the versatility to play multiple positions on the offensive line. Frederick has slightly more upside than Wagner, but both players should come off the board somewhere between the third and fifth rounds.

DISCOVER ORANGE BOWL, JANUARY 1/2013

Florida State Seminoles (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1)

It will be big school versus small school in this season’s Orange Bowl as legendary powerhouse Florida State welcomes upstart Northern Illinois to the big show. The big school/small school angle is quite evident in terms of NFL prospects as the Seminoles have eight or nine players that could be draft picks in April. At the top of the Florida State draft class are potential first round picks DE Bjoern Werner (Jr) and CB Xavier Rhodes (rJr). The rise of German-born Bjoern Werner has been pretty remarkable. In just five short years he’s gone from a high-school exchange student with zero football experience to a First-Team All-American and one of the very top draft-eligible prospects. He is a powerhouse pass-rusher with the strength and power to flatten offensive linemen and the speed and explosive burst to beat them around the edge. He made a name for himself as junior, but became a star and elite prospect this season when he stepped up as the Seminoles feature pass-rusher following Brandon Jenkins’ season-ending injury. Despite having to often face the opponents’ best pass protector Werner was dominant registering 13 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. He looks like a sure-fire top ten pick and could come off the board in the first three selections. Rhodes is a tough, very physical corner with imposing size and strength. He excels in the physical part of playing defense using his superior strength to get in the face of opposing wide receivers and knock them off of their routes. He also has pretty good speed and has shown he possesses the ability to cover receivers anywhere on the field. He’s projected to be a late first, early second round pick. Following Werner and Rhodes are four projected mid-round picks in OLB Brandon Jenkins (Sr), QB EJ Manuel (rSr), DE Cornellius Carradine (Sr) and DT Everett Dawkins (rSr). Jenkins is an explosive pass-rusher with first-round talent, but a Lisfranc injury in his left foot ended his season and dropped him down draft boards leaving his stock a bit up in the air. It won’t be until February or March before he’s able to show he’s fully healthy and worthy of a spot in the first half of the draft. Manuel is a big, athletic quarterback with a very strong arm and the mobility to make plays with his legs, but is still a project at this time. He makes too many bad decisions, holds on to the ball too long and seems to get rattled pretty quickly by pressure. He came into the season as a Heisman candidate and potential first round pick, but struggled despite Florida State’s impressive record and will now need a good showing at the Senior Bowl to sneak into the late third round, but could fall into Day 3. Carradine came into the season as the little known third man behind starters Werner and Jenkins, but like Werner he raised his game to another level with Jenkins’ injury and was flying up draft boards into the first round before going down with a torn right ACL in the season finale. He amassed 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss through twelve games, but like Jenkins his draft stock is really an unknown until he can show scouts he’s healthy again. Dawkins is a very athletic interior defensive lineman who is best at creating havoc in the middle and putting pressure on the passer even if it doesn’t translate to the stat sheet. His agility and athleticism allow him to move easily around the field and pursue ball-carriers. He should be an early Day 3 selection. Possible late round draft choices for the Seminoles include FB Lonnie Pryor (Sr), WR Rodney Smith (Sr), K Dustin Hopkins (Sr) and DT Anthony McCloud (rSr). Northern Illinois has just one late round hopeful in DE Sean Progar (rSr) for the 2013 NFL Draft. S Dechance Durante (rSo) is still just a sophomore, but is definitely a guy to watch for next year as he looks to have some star potential despite missing half the season with an injury.

 

Written By: Mark Scott



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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