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Posted on: October 3, 2011 3:57 pm
 

Cornerback the strength of 2012 draft?

With a full month of the college and NFL seasons now in the books, we can now take a look at the talent likely to be available in the 2012 draft and compare it to the areas of concern for most professional teams.

Though I'd argue that none of the cornerbacks in the upcoming draft class appears to be as good as gifted as No. 5 overall pick Patrick Peterson (Cardinals), what is becoming increasingly obvious is that the cornerback class, as a whole, is much stronger than in most years.

Durability and off-field concerns have certainly reared their ugly heads at the position as Nebraska senior Alfonzo Dennard has struggled to return from a pulled leg muscle and two of the better ball-hawking corners in the country -- North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins and Oregon junior Cliff Harris -- had noteworthy run-ins with police during the off-season.

That isn't to say any of the three of them is likely to slip out of the first round should their issues be resolved to NFL teams' satisfaction prior to the April draft.

As everyone knows, the NFL has morphed into a league dependant on the passing game. This fact makes quarterbacks and strong passing attacks critical to offensive success. At the same time, it drives up the value of pass defenders -- whether they be pass rushers or defensive backs.

The 2012 class of safeties does not appear to be an overly talented one. At cornerback, however, there is a great deal of talent. Besides the three players I've already mentioned, I'd be surprised if Alabama's 'Dre Kirkpatrick, LSU's Morris Claiborne, Virginia Tech's Jayron Hosley -- all juniors -- aren't selected in whatever first round they choose to make themsevles eligible. I currently list six cornerbacks among my top 32 prospects for the 2012 draft.

Some argue that by spreading the defense out elite cornerbacks can be taken out of the game. There certainly is ample evidence to argue this considering that so many pro offenses are now utilizing three, four or even five receivers per snap.

My argument against this theory, however, is that spread offenses are only going to drive up the value of cornerbacks. Cornerbacks with Hosley or Harris, for example, while perhaps not ideal run defenders or possessing the size teams would like to slow the Andre or Calvin Johnsons of the world, might prove perfect cover options for the smaller, quicker slot receivers that are proving so integral to today's top passing attacks.

This doesn't appear to be a case of teams needing help at one position and therefore grading players at that position of need higher than normal.

These guys just might be that good.

For some NFL defenses weary of giving 300+ passing yards to even average quarterbacks, the help can't come soon enough.
Posted on: October 2, 2011 10:26 am
 

Iowa State loses to Texas; stars to injuries

The Iowa State Cyclones had a tough Saturday evening, losing 37-14 at home against the Texas Longhorns.

Perhaps of even greater concern is the fact that they lost three of their best players in senior cornerback Leonard Johnson and both starting offensive tackles, Kelechi Osemele and Brayden Burris, to injuries.

Johnson's appeared the scariest initially. According to Bobby La Gesse of GoCyclones.com Johnson was injured while trying to make a tackle in the fourth quarter. Johnson, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 7 rated senior cornerback, was twice hit in the head by teammates. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and spent Saturday night in a nearby hospital. Though no official prognosis has been made public Sunday morning, Johnson did wave to the crowd as he was carted off the field. Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads said that Johnson was able to move his "arms, legs, hands and fingers" while on the field. 

The news didn't get much better on the other side of the ball for the Cyclones as Burris, a two-year starter at right tackle, was diagnosed with a fractured foot.

Osemele, the Cyclones' left tackle and highest rated pro prospect, appears to have been the most fortunate of the three. He re-injured the troublesome right ankle that had hampered him earlier in the season and Rhoads said the injury affected Osemele's right knee, as well.

A tenacious blocker at 6-5, 347 pounds, Osemele may struggle with quick pass rushers in the NFL. As such, NFLDraftScout.com projects him to move inside to guard at the next level. He is currently rated as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 3 guard prospect for the 2012 draft and a potential top 50 selection.  
Posted on: September 30, 2011 3:50 pm
Edited on: September 30, 2011 3:51 pm
 

Pitt, South Florida prospects flash NFL skills

Last night provided fans and scouts alike with an interesting Big East showdown between the Pittsburgh Panthers and the South Florida Bulls. For many fans, the fact that Pitt easily beat up on the No. 16 rated Bulls was the main story line. For those of us watching the game with an eye towards several of these prospects playing for NFL teams in the future, the final score (Pittsburgh won 44-17) was just a side note.

The star of the game was Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham, who rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the rout. Pitt's big, physical offensive line certainly aided in the production from the 5-09, 195 pound junior tailback, but Graham's vision and agility helped turn several 3-4 yard carries into 10-15 yard scampers. Most importantly, it was clear that the Pitt coaching staff trusted Graham as the game went into the second half. Though the final score argues otherwise, this was a close game early. Pitt went into halftime ahead only 20-17. Considering the success of recent Pitt running backs LeSean McCoy and Dion Lewis -- each of whom left school early -- it is wise to keep Graham in mind when considering the underclassmen at this position who may test the NFL waters.

One of reasons why Graham found the running easy was due to the play of Panther offensive guard Lucas Nix. The 6-5, 310 pounder is rated NFLDraftScout.com's No. 4 offensive guard for the 2012 draft and demonstrated why throughout this contest, routinely blasting holes in the front line and showing the agility to block at the second level, as well.

On the defensive side of the ball, Panthers' pass rusher Brandon Lindsey enjoyed a solid, but unspectacular game. He was credited with four tackles, including a sack in the third quarter, but didn't show the explosivness I expected from a prospect I'd just included as part of my newest mock draft. Lindsey was often a beat late off the ball and relied mostly on his speed outside to cross the face of the tackle on his way to the quarterback. I'd like to see improved hand play and a quicker inside spin to compliment his outside rush.

On the South Florida side, I was intrigued by the play of senior cornerback Quenton Washington. The 5-10, 195 pounder has been reported to boast legitimate 4.3 speed. Though I would have estimated him at 4.45 based on last night's game, Washington did show an impressive burst to close, knocking away two passes that otherwise would have been caught. He also posted two tackles, including a tackle for loss. I would have liked to have seen Washington turn his second PBU into an interception, however, as he read the play, broke on it quickly and was in position to snatch the Tino Sunseri pass and perhaps take it back for a touchdown. Instead, the ball dropped to the ground in what was a microcosm of the opportunity South Florida lost in this nationally televised contest.

NFLDraftScout.com does not rank Washington as a draftable commodity at this time (he's ranked 52nd currently), but with his athleticism, he's certainly one I am keeping my eye on as a potential riser as the draft nears.



Posted on: September 28, 2011 4:05 pm
 

The curious disappearance of Aaron Curry

When the Seattle Seahawks selected outside linebacker Aaron Curry out of Wake Forest with the fourth overall pick of the 2009 draft most believed they'd added the safest pick of the class.

Two years and two games later, Aaron Curry was benched in favor of 2011 fourth round pick KJ Wright.

Now, there is plenty of speculation that the Seahawks are looking to unload the former Butkus-award winner. Some believe the team will even consider cutting Curry outright should the team not get a suitable offer before the trade deadline.

Like virtually every one else, I lauded Seattle's selection of Curry at the time. I had done my research on Curry and virtually every scout I've grown to trust felt the same about him -- he was a future Pro Bowler. 

Blessed with an incredible combination of size, strength and speed, Curry had lit up ACC foes and confirmed his remarkable athleticism with one of the most impressive all-around Combine performances from a linebacker in league history. The former Wake Forest star and I even collaborated on a four-part journal in the months leading up to the draft so I felt comfortable recommending him as a person as well as a prospect.

In a little more than two seasons with the Seahawks, Curry's athleticism, size and strength were obvious, but so too was his lack of instincts. The big plays that had characterized his career with the Demon Deacons suddenly disappeared.

So what happened?

My theory is that I (and, of course, many others) simply missed on Curry. He was a dominant force at outside linebacker in the 4-3 in college largely due to his extraordinary athleticism. Because of his range, Curry was able to beat backs to the outside. His burst upfield made him theoretically a dangerous pass rusher (he was rarely asked to rush in college) and his instincts and ball skills made him a terror in coverage (six career interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns). Curry was also surrounded by talent. Three other Demon Deacons were drafted with Curry in 2009. None of them -- cornerback Alphonso Smith, safety Chip Vaughn and inside linebacker Stanley Arnoux -- have since gone on to enjoy anything close to the pro success that the teams that drafted them had envisioned. Wake Forest had never had four players from one side of the ball ever drafted in a single year. They haven't since. With such rare talent, I believe all four Wake Forest defenders had their strengths highlighted and their weaknesses minimized, leading to inflated grades for all of them.

There are three other thoughts I have on Curry.

One, is that there were warning signs. Curry displayed a troubling tendency to over-run plays even in college. This has been a problem in Seattle, as well. Too often, he's been in position to make the play, but has over-pursued and allowed a cutback lane or bitten hard on play-action and been beaten. This fact led to some (including long-time NFLDraftScout.com draft biographer Dave Te Thomas) to question how well Curry would handle NFL speed playing outside linebacker in a 4-3.

Second, the 2009 draft class simply wasn't that good. Consider that the first 11 picks of the draft were:

Matt Stafford -- Detroit Lions
Jason Smith -- St. Louis Rams
Tyson Jackson -- Kansas City Chiefs
Curry -- Seattle Seahawks
Mark Sanchez -- New York Jets
Andre Smith -- Cincinnati Bengals
Darrius Heyward-Bey -- Oakland Raiders
Eugene Monroe -- Jacksonville Jaguars
B.J. Raji -- Green Bay Packers
Michael Crabtree -- San Francisco 49ers
Aaron Maybin -- Buffalo Bills

If you're reading this, you're an NFL Draft fan. I don't need to tell you that a disproportionate number of these high picks have since struggled in the NFL.

Finally,  I continue to believe Curry can be successful in the NFL. At 6-2, 254 pounds with long arms, he has the frame to consider moving inside. Curry's biggest problem is his lack of instincts. Therefore, I do not believe he'd be successful in Seattle (or inside for any other 4-3 team). However, if protected by another inside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, Curry could still do what he does best -- create explosive collisions and chase down ball-carriers from behind.

It is a theory that Thomas had prior to Curry being drafted... one that more of us, apparently, should have heeded.

Here is Thomas' summary (and interesting comparison) for Curry:

AARON CURRY -- Like the Chiefs finally realized with Johnson, hopefully the NFL team that drafts Curry will do likewise and play him in the middle. He has very good athleticism making plays in front of him, but bites often on play-action, lacks good depth playing in the zone and is a bit too stiff to generate the sideline-to-sideline range to make impact plays on the outside, where he struggles to stop the runner's forward momentum. He can clog the rush lanes when he stays low in his pads. Put him inside in a 3-4 alignment and he can be equally productive getting to the quarterback as he did in college. Play him on the outside and he will be exposed in a quick and deep passing game. Compares to: Derrick Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs


For those who don't recall, Johnson was widely viewed as a bust early in his career while playing outside linebacker for the Chiefs, which ran a 4-3 defense. He has since improved his level of play while playing inside linebacker for the Chiefs' 3-4 alignment.

Should Curry get another chance elsewhere, don't be surprised if he, too, enjoys a career rejuvenation -- especially if he goes to a team that caters to his unique strengths (and hides his unfortunate weaknesses). 


Posted on: September 27, 2011 1:43 pm
 

Pitt loses "good guy" OG Jacobson for year

The Pittsburgh Panthers suffered quite a loss Saturday with redshirt senior left guard Chris Jacobson, one of the most respected members of the team and a legitimate NFL prospect, suffering a season-ending injury to his left knee.

Jacobson has been overshadowed throughout much of his career, as the Panthers boast one of the top guard prospects in the entire country in Lucas Nix. The team sent left tackle Jason Pinkston to the NFL last April (Cleveland Browns' fifth round pick).

Despite the relative lack of national name recognition, the Pittsburgh coaching staff was mourning the loss of their co-captain.

Jerry DiPaolo of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review was on hand to record Pittsburgh head coach Todd Graham's comments:

"Chris Jacobson is one of the most respected people in our program,” Graham said, “and I know every player and coach feels disappointment for him that he’ll miss the rest of the year. Fortunately, we feel optimistic about his chances to receive sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA.” It’s a bad break for a good guy, but Jacobson would be the first to tell you, “That’s football.”

Jacobson is expected to undergo surgery on the knee soon, perhaps as early as this week. This is the second catastrophic knee injury. Jacobson missed the entire 2007 season after tearing the ACL in his right knee during fall camp. According to DiPaulo, Graham is hopeful the NCAA will grant Jacobson a rare sixth year of eligibility.

Jacobson currently ranks as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 14 guard for the 2011 draft. Nix ranks fourth.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 6:27 am
 

Penn State loses LB Mauti to torn ACL vs. EMU

Despite impressively beating Eastern Michigan 34-6 Saturday, Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions suffered a significant loss over the weekend with redshirt junior outside linebacker Michael Mauti tearing the ACL in his left knee.

Mauti, 6-2, and 242 pounds, was the team's leading tackler and some believe had ascended this season to be the Nittany Lions' best all-around player.

Mauti's season will end with 21 tackles; still tied for the team lead in stops despite his injury occurring in the first quarter. He was viewed as Penn State's most reliable and versatile linebacker. Stout, strong and surprisingly speedy in coverage, Mauti had already established himself as one of the better young linebacker prospects for the NFL. Though he played outside for Penn State, his size and instincts appeared to make him a logical candidate to move inside at the pro level. Mauti was all over the field for Penn State a few weeks ago in the showdown with Alabama, racking up a career high 13 tackles. A week ago he posted six tackles, including a career high three tackles for loss and an interception that led to Penn State's winning drive in the win over Temple.

Mauti, according to Penn State Director of Athletic Medicine Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli, is expected to undergo surgery in the next two weeks. His rehabilitation is expected to take a minimum of nine months.

This is the second time Mauti has torn an ACL. He tore the ligament in his right knee during fall camp in 2009 and missed the entire season.

Mauti entered the week as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 9 inside linebacker prospect for the class of 2013.
Posted on: September 23, 2011 3:43 pm
 

Five prospects I'll be scouting closely Saturday

Each Friday I list my "Five prospects" that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend. In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, but the players listed below are playing in high profile games and against the caliber of competition that I believe provides us with an opportunity to truly assess how a collegiate player might fare when asked to make the huge jump to the NFL.

Typically I focus on senior prospects in this space. However, with it becoming more and more obvious as to which underclassmen are considering the jump to the pros, I'll be incorporating a few more juniors and redshirt sophomores in the coming weeks.

Because I'm scouting them in real time these players make an early impression, often leading to consideration as my Prospect of the Week or Diamond in the Rough.

Sometimes it also leads to the player being featured in Draft Slant , NFLDraftScout.com and CBSSports.com's weekly NFL Draft preview. In each PDF issue of Draft Slant Senior Analyst Chad Reuter breaks down six more players in Filmroom Notes, updates our Top 64 prospects overall and offers extensive previews of the next week's action. Here is the link to this week's issue of Draft Slant. Or for the entire season click this link . Looking for a specific week? Download past issues from the past three years here.

Without any further adieu, here are the five prospects, as well as the cable provider and time you can expect to see them.

QB Ryan Lindley, San Diego State: Throughout Brady Hoke's tenure as the Aztecs' head coach, Lindley demonstrated the live arm and understanding of defenses to help turn around the San Diego State program. Now, with Hoke on the opposite sideline, the pupil will have his opportunity to show up the teacher. Lindley is a bit of a gun-slinger. He's shown a willingness to throw off his back foot and into coverage a bit more than I'd like, but he does possess the size, arm and accuracy to be a legitimate NFL prospect. He currently ranks 8th on NFLDraftScout.com's QB board for the 2012 draft. Michigan isn't loaded defensively, but they are certainly a step up athleticism-wise from anything the Aztecs will see this season. Furthermore, I want to see how Lindley handles the noise and pressure in such a hostile environment.  This game begins at 12:00 pm ET and will be televised by The Big Ten Network.

WR Greg Childs, Arkansas:  Ryan Mallett and Knile Davis received much of the attention last season, but the most consistent performer last season for Bobby Petrino was his high-flying junior wideourt, Childs. Childs, of course, suffered a knee injury that robbed him of any thought of coming out early. He was hobbled early this season coming back from the injury and missed last week's game due to a death in the family. Against what I believe is the best coached and most talented secondary in the country, Childs will definitely have his work cut out for him. However, when healthy, Childs has shown a combination of size, speed and body control to rank as a legitimate top 50 prospect. This game begins at 3:30 pm ET and will be televised by CBS.

QB Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M: A former wide receiver who only made the switch to quarterback last season after the incumbent starter struggled, Tannehill has made as much progress as an NFL prospect as any player in the country. The improvements he's made in reading coverages, setting up and delivering passes and simply understanding the nuances of Mike Sherman's pro-style attack in less than a full season operating at quarterback have been impressive, leading some scouts to view Tannehill as this year's out-of-nowhere first round pick. Tannehill certainly isn't coming out of nowhere in my mind, nor that of NFLDraftScout.com. We've rated him the top senior QB prospect in the country since August. Tannehill and his Aggies face their first real test this weekend, however, as they host Oklahoma State, who boasts their own legitimate pro QB prospect in Brandon Weeden and his Biletnikof-winning receiver Justin Blackmon. Sure, I want to scout this game because it pits two top ten teams, but don't fool yourself, this is a huge showdown for the quarterbacks. This game begins at 3:30 ET and will be televised by ABC/ESPN.

DE Andre Branch, Clemson: Quite frankly, I wasn't impressed with the play of Florida State's left tackle Andrew Datko in last weekend's game against an athletic Oklahoma defense. Branch boasts the combination of size, strength and speed that could also give Datko troubles, which is why I want to focus on him. Those wanting to see one of the better senior prospects at any position in the country can simply look to Branch's left, as senior defensive tackle Brandon Thompson has been impressive, thus far. In past games that I've wanted to focus on Branch, Thompson has stolen my attention. We'll see if Branch can't steal back some thunder in this exciting ACC matchup. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by ESPN. 

CB Cliff Harris, Oregon: Heisman finalist LaMichael James was the primary reason for Oregon's rise to the BCS Championship game last season, but Harris was arguably the most dominant player on the team, earning All-American honors as a returner and ball-hawking cornerback. His well-documented off-field troubles have hurt his stock, as has his spindly frame (5-11, 168). Harris hasn't seen much time yet this season as he works his way back into head coach Chip Kelly's good graces. The Ducks will be sure that Harris is on the field against an explosive Arizona offense, however, that features their own talented pro prospects in QB Nick Foles and WR Juron Criner. How the slim Harris matches up with Criner (6-4, 215) should give scouts a good idea as to how well he'll handle the bigger, more physical receivers of the NFL. This game begins at 10"15 pm ET and will be televised by ESPN2.

p.s. At the request of some diehard Seahawk fans, I'm also including the QBs to watch this weekend. They are:

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State visiting Texas A&M. 3:30 pm ET on ABC/ESPN
Landry Jones, Oklahoma hosting Missouri. 8 pm ET on FX.
Nick Foles, Arizona hosting Oregon. 10:15 pm ET on ESPN2.
Matt Barkley, USC visiting Arizona State. 10:15 pm ET on ESPN.*

*As well as Lindley and Tannehill, mentioned above.

Posted on: September 20, 2011 7:00 pm
 

Arkansas WR Childs to return vs. Alabama

For all of the talk that Ryan Mallett and running back Knile Davis generated last season, scouts will tell you that Arkansas' best pro prospect last season was wide receiver Greg Childs.

The Razorbacks lost Mallett early to the NFL and unfortunately lost Davis to a fractured ankle this summer. Childs has been recovering from a torn patella tendon suffered last season. Despite missing the final five games, he still led the Razorbacks with 46 catches for 659 yards and six touchdowns. He'd teased the Arkansas faithful by practicing this fall and played in the season opener against Missouri State, catching two passes for 29 yards before being lifted in the 51-7 blowout. Though he was active and played sparingly in Arkansas' 52-3 victory over New Mexico a week later, he did not catch a pass.

This past week, however, misfortune once again reared up against Childs as his grandmother passed away. Childs missed Arkansas' game against Troy this past weekend, but according to head coach Bobby Petrino, the preseason All-SEC wide receiver will be back on the field Saturday in the showdown against No. 3 Alabama.

One can only hope that Childs is recovering quickly and fully from both the knee injury and the death of his grandmother. Re-starting the season against the likes of 'Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron and a talented and deep Alabama defense does not sound like a proper welcome mat for the gifted receiver.

On the other hand, if Childs is able to play -- and play well -- against Alabama this weekend, it might prove to scouts that he is, indeed, over his pain and ready to re-emerge as one of the country's top wide receivers. At this point, Childs rates as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 5 receiver potentially available for the 2012 draft. This ranking does take into account underclassmen, such as Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, each of whom we rate higher than Childs, at this time.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com