Posted on: July 15, 2011 12:15 pm
Edited on: July 15, 2011 12:23 pm

Some surprises in Coaches Preseason All-SEC team

For the purposes of scouting for the NFL, whether a player makes an all-conference team or not is less important than how I personally grade a player off tape, how a player performs in an all-star game, and many other factors.

It is, however, a tool that scouts can and often do use to ascertain which players rival coaches feel are legitimate difference-makers.

This is especially true in the SEC. The reasons are simple. There is a great deal of individual talent in the conference and a high number of the elite talent leaves early for the NFL as underclassmen, often creating quite a turnover on the all-conference list.

The SEC announced their official Coaches Preseason First, Second and Third all-conference lists this week. There were some surprises.

Here were the five that raised my eyebrow...
  1. Alabama cornerback 'Dre Kirkpatrick, a Second Team All-SEC pick last year, only made the Third Team preseason polling this summer. Kirkpatrick, entering his junior season, is considered a potential elite prospect for the NFL and is currently NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated CB for the class of 2013.
  2. True sophomore Aaron Murray from Georgia was named the First-Team quarterback. This is a reflection of two things. For one, Murray flashed some serious talent last year and looks like he could be the next big thing at the position from this conference. Secondly, he has little proven competition. 
  3. Some will find it interesting that defending national champion Auburn and perennial talent hotbed Florida had zero 1st team selections. LSU, another annual contributor to the NFL, had only one player (junior CB Morris Claiborne) make the team. Quite frankly, after reviewing tape this summer of these three teams, I'm not surprised. While the schemes that have made each of these teams successful in recent years remain intact, the plethora of elite talent that had resulted in recent national championships simply isn't there... or at least hasn't proven itself yet.
  4. Don't look now but Steve Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks are loaded. They boast four first-team All-SEC picks in running back Marcus Lattimore, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, defensive end Devin Taylor and cornerback Stephon Gilmore. None of whom are seniors. Each looks like a potential high round NFL prospect.
  5. The talent at running back in this conference is staggering. Typically, all-conference teams feature two running backs per team. There must have been a tie among voters, however, as the SEC lists three running backs for the Second-Team (only two for the First and Third teams, respectively). Hard to blame the coaches when you take into consideration the three backs that made the Second Team are Arkansas' Knile Davis, Florida's Jeff Demps and Auburn's Michael Dyer. Each of those who be a shoo-in for First-Team honors in most other conferences, though I agree with the coaches that South Carolina's Lattimore and Alabama's Trent Richardson deserve top-billing. 

Posted on: June 17, 2011 10:29 am

Oregon Jr CB Cliff Harris suspended indefinitely

Oregon junior cornerback Cliff Harris, an underrated component of the Ducks' drive to a berth in the BCS Title Game last year, has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Chip Kelly after being arrested for speeding and driving a rental car with a suspended license early this week.

Harris, along with two other unidentified Oregon football players, was pulled over by an off-duty Oregon State police officer after the car Harris was driving was clocked at approximately 118 miles per hour. They were pulled over south of Albany, Oregon, which is north of the University of Oregon campus in Eugene.

This is at least the second time that Harris, 20, has been cited for driving with a suspended license.

Kelly announced that Harris would be suspended for Oregon's opener against LSU in Cowboys Stadium in Texas "at the very least" and cautioned that the suspension could go on for much longer should Harris' behavior not improve.
“Cliff’s future clearly is in Cliff’s hands,” Kelly said. “Earning an opportunity to represent the University of Oregon and this football program certainly rests far beyond a player’s ability on the field of play. Our behavior out of the spotlight often is more important and will be held to a higher standard. Until Cliff is able to conform to the same standards all of us must comply with, his status will remain unchanged.”
Though he's only entering his junior season, you can be sure NFL teams are already paying attention. Harris, 5-11 and 180 pounds, led the country with 23 passes defensed last season and led the Pac-10 with six interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown (against Tennessee). Harris is perhaps just as well known for his special teams' prowess, as he's one of the more dynamic return-men in college football.

Last year, he broke the Oregon school record with four punt returns for scores.

Harris currently ranks as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2 junior cornerback prospect behind only Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick. Each would rate as first round values at this early stage in the process.

As this video will show, Harris' return skills are undeniable. So too are his ball skills. And while some of his punt returns come against weaker competition, three of his interceptions last year came against elite NFL prospects Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley.


Posted on: May 19, 2011 11:32 am

5 Biggest Steals of the 2011 Draft

I am taking the first of several mini-vacations tomorrow and wanted to write a final blog post identifying some of the players I believe will prove to be the true steals of the 2011 draft before I begin breaking down the crop of 2012 prospects in earnest upon my return.

I'm sure you have your opinions on which players will prove to be steals. I'd love to read them.

Here are mine.

Five Biggest Steals:

1. RB Mark Ingram, Saints -- selected No. 28 overall: Ingram was the 5th rated prospect on my Big Board, so obviously I'm quite high on his talents. Clearly, the Saints had other needs, but the reliable, hard running by Ingram will give New Orleans the strong rushing attack that helped win them the 2010 Super Bowl.

2. OC Rodney Hudson, Chiefs -- selected No. 55 overall: A career left guard, Hudson will be moved inside to center for the Chiefs and prove a star. His agility, underrated strength and instincts will make him an immediate and long-time standout.

3. RB Daniel Thomas, Dolphins -- selected No. 62 overall: In leading the Big 12 in rushing each of his two seasons at that level and playing the position for the first time, Thomas has already proven his ability. His size, surprising agility and acceleration could be put to the test early and often for Miami, as they attempt to replace the production potentially lost with free agents Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams expected to play elsewhere next season.

4. WR Dwayne Harris, Cowboys -- selected No. 176 overall: I wasn't particularly high on the Cowboys' draft, overall, but I believe they found a steal in Harris, one of the better slot receiver prospects in this draft. Harris is everything Roy Williams is not. Dedicated, tough, and possessing reliable hands.

5. ILB Greg Jones, Giants -- selected No. 185 overall: I've panned several of the Giants' top picks over the past few years because I was stunned they didn't recognize their need for help at linebacker. They again showed their unwillingness to invest a high round pick in the position, but in Jones, they found a productive leader who should help stabilize the middle.

Posted on: April 28, 2011 11:55 am

Plenty of surprises in my final mock

After talking to sources into the late night, I finally finished my two round mock draft and shipped it off to the editors at approximately midnight Pacific time.

For those who have been following my mocks for awhile, there are some surprises, beginning with the Denver Broncos using the No. 2 overall pick on Texas A&M pass rusher Von Miller.

I've long argued that Alabama DT Marcell Dareus should be the pick for the Broncos, despite the fact that I rate Miller as the better prospect . Dareus' bulk and strength make him an ideal fit for a defense that struggled against the run last year and have already released 2010 starters Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams. Considering that the Broncos could potentially quickly add to their win total if better able to compete against the Chiefs and Raiders' run-heavy offenses, the pick seemed a no-brainer.

Instead, the Broncos seem to be infatuated with Miller and will be taking the Butkus Award winner with the second pick.

The surprises continue from there with five quarterbacks making the first round, back to back Baylor Bears in the 20s and perhaps most surprisng, projecting THREE Alabama Crimson Tide players to be drafted before Mark Ingram, arguably the best player from Alabama in the draft.

The editors are working on updating my mock now. When it is all done, it will be available here:
(For those who want a sneak peek at the picks - but no explanations - you can check it out here . This is my final projection of the first round.
Posted on: April 26, 2011 10:14 pm

Cincinnati Bengals Draft Preview

Cincinnati Bengals 2010 record: 4-12, fourth place AFC North

2011 draft rundown - Eight total picks (round): 4 (1); 35 (2); 66 (3); 101 (4); 134 (5); 167 (6); 207 (7); 246 (7)

Top needs:   

Quarterback: With Carson Palmer stating that he is done playing in Cincinnati, the Bengals have to address the position early. Jordan Palmer and Dan LeFevour are on the roster but they have thrown a combined 15 passes in regular-season games and are not the long-term answer. Whoever they draft, it won't be a situation like 2003 where Carson Palmer got to sit for a year and learn the offense. He will be expected to play immediately.

Wide receiver: Cincinnati needs to draft a young playmaker who can stretch the field because Chad Ochocinco, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are all entering the final year of their contracts. With Ochocinco's production declining the past three years and scheduled to make $6 million this year, the odds of him being on the opening-day roster are slim. The Bengals haven't drafted a receiver in the first round since 2000 but they have squandered nearly $25 million in free agency the last two years in trying to find someone to line up opposite Ochocinco.

Safety: The Bengals could go into the season with Chris Crocker and Reggie Nelson as the starters (Roy Williams is an unrestricted free agent), but could get caught short for the third straight year due to injuries. They could find a safety or two in the middle rounds but Lewis has already said that the quality in this year's class is not good.

Offensive line: Guard is an immediate need with Bobbie Williams entering the final year of his contract and Nate Livings inconsistent. Depending on if Andre Smith can come back from his third foot surgery since being drafted two years ago, there could also be a need at right tackle. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander has done a solid job developing linemen, but those have been mostly undrafted players.

First-round focus  4th overall -- Like the Buffalo Bills picking immediately before them, the Bengals are in the unenviable position of reading the tea-leaves with their current quarterback. Should the Bengals take Carson Palmer at his word and believe that he will never play for them again, they'll feel the pressure to select either Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton, should either be available to them at No. 4. If neither is, the Bengals are expected to select Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green with the fourth pick. Not only would he help the Bengals' passing game (and potentially help convince Palmer to come back), he also would provide Cincinnati with some flexibility at the receiver position -- something they need desperately considering the precarious status of their current receiving corps. Alabama's Julio Jones is a more physical blocker and ran faster at the Combine. He is viewed by some as a better in the West Coast Offense due to his size and strength, but isn't nearly as consistent as Jones in the all-important categories of route-running and catching passes with his hands. Though the Bengals have rarely moved on draft day (they've been apart of only three first round trades since 1992), this could be the year to do it. There will be plenty of interest in Green and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, as well as Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller should he still be on the board. The Bengals may be forced to trade back into the late portion of the first round if they're unable to trade back from No. 4 as they desperately need a quarterback -- and potentially one who could contribute immediately. Most view Florida State's Christian Ponder and TCU's Andy Dalton as the most pro-ready quarterbacks of this year's draft. There is no guarantee that either will be available when the Bengals select in the second round (No. 35 overall).

Five names on Bengals' board:   
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
WR A.J. Green, Georgia
WR Julio Jones, Alabama
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU

Posted on: April 26, 2011 9:14 pm
Edited on: April 26, 2011 9:19 pm

Buffalo Bills Draft Preview

Buffalo Bills 2010 record: 4-12, fourth place AFC East

2011 draft rundown - Nine total picks (round): 3 (1); 34 (2); 68 (3); 100 (4); 122 (4); 133 (5); 169 (6); 206 (7); 245 (7)

Top needs:   

Defensive line: The Bills' 2,714 rushing yards allowed was second most in team history and they allowed eight 200-yard rushing games. Aside from Pro Bowl nose tackle Kyle Williams, blue-chip talent required to stop the run and rush the passer is sorely lacking. Alabama's Marcell Dareus and Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers are in the discussion.

Quarterback: Ryan Fitzpatrick's career-high 23 touchdown passes provides a level of comfort. The question is whether Auburn's Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert are "franchise" talents too good to pass up with the No. 3 overall pick. Or is there a prospect to take in Round 2 (No. 34) and develop? Florida State's Christian Ponder is a candidate for that scenario.

Linebacker: The Bills are in need of run stoppers and pass rushers at this vital position. Even with free agent Shawne Merriman in the fold, there is a general lack of star power on both the outside and inside and Paul Posluszny could be declared a free agent. The team is paying dearly for drafting Aaron Maybin 11th overall in 2009; he has yet to record a sack.

Offensive tackle: The Bills like four of their five starters, but right tackle was a revolving door in 2010. Mansfield Wrotto, Cordaro Howard and Erik Pears are expected to compete for the starting right tackle job but the team will add to the mix.

First-round focus   3rd overall -- The direction the Buffalo Bills go with the No. 3 overall pick all depends on their true feelings for veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The journeyman enjoyed a career year in 2010, passing for 3,000 yards and a respectable 23 touchdowns (against 15 interceptions) despite starting only 13 games. Considering the significant struggles the team had on the defensive side of the ball (including allowing eight 200 yard rushers last year), it might seem obvious that the Bills would look to address their defense. However, GM Buddy Nix and head coach Chan Gailey eschewed their defensive needs last year to draft playmaker C.J. Spiller with the ninth overall pick and might be similarly tempted to draft a premier young signal-caller like Blaine Gabbert should he still be on the board. Having a year to learn the NFL ropes behind Fitzpatrick and IGabbert could prove an NFL star. The upside of the athletic Gabbert (or even more athletic Cam Newton, should he be available) would also be a wise move for a franchise looking to rebuild their fan base. If, on the other hand, the Bills like what they have in Fitzpatrick or decide to push off their concern for a young quarterback into the second or later rounds, there is plenty of defensive talent likely to be available at No. 3 that could fill areas of need. A stout run defender like Alabama's Marcell Dareus would seemingly be a perfect fit for the Bills and almost surely would be the pick if he were available. Experienced inside and out in Nick Saban's 3-4 defense while with the Crimson Tide, Dareus would make an immediate impact. So too would outside linebacker Von Miller, whose ability to rush the quarterback would help ease the suffering of the huge disappointment that has been former No. 11 overall pick Aaron Maybin. Cornerback is one of the team's relative strengths so LSU's Patrick Peterson would be a surprise, but the Bills have already shown their willingness think outside of the box with the selection of Spiller last year.

Five names on Bills' board:   
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU

Posted on: April 25, 2011 8:00 pm

Carolina Panthers Draft Preview

Carolina Panthers 2010 record: 2-14, fourth place NFC South

2011 draft rundown - Eight total picks (round): 1 (1); 65 (3); 97 (3); 98 (4); 132 (5); 166 (6); 203 (7); 244 (7)

Top needs:   

Quarterback: The Panthers finished last passing in 2010, so it doesn't take much to figure out their biggest need this offseason. In fact, even new coach Ron Rivera has come out and said his team's biggest goal is finding a franchise quarterback.

Defensive tackle: The Panthers have an equally pressing need on the other side of the ball at defensive tackle entering this year's NFL draft. Last year, the Panthers rotated Derek Landri, Nick Hayden and Ed Johnson in at the defensive tackle spots. All three might be considered decent role players, but none are exceptional and might not start for many other teams around the league.

Wide receiver: Yes, the Panthers drafted three wide receivers last year, including two in the third round in Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards and one in the sixth in David Gettis. But if the team decides to trade unhappy veteran Steve Smith, which is a possibility, they will need to replenish this position with a top-end talent.

Cornerback: Richard Marshall has said he doesn't think he'll be back and fellow starter Chris Gamble (who is owed $6 million) is coming off a poor season in which he was benched.

First-round focus   1st overall -- The Carolina Panthers are widely expected to select quarterback Cam Newton with the top overall pick, but some believe the team is struggling to come to grips with the thought of investing the first pick on a player with only one season of starting experience at the BCS level. It is easy to understand why the Panthers might be tempted by some of the other players in this draft class. Alabama defensive Marcell Dareus, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green also play positions of need and are widely viewed as considerably safer prospects. North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn could prove a Pro Bowl caliber pass rusher -- something the Panthers could use considering their loss last year of free agent Julius Peppers -- and would be a popular selection given his close regional ties, as well. Ultimately, however, the way to improve in the NFL is to improve at the quarterback position. Considering the relative talent of the other quarterbacks in the NFC South division (Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay), the only way for the Carolina Panthers to realistically get back into contention for the divisional crown, they need improved play at quarterback. Newton is a gamble, but his 51 touchdowns against SEC competition and poise both on and off the field in driving Auburn to the BCS Championship, is the stuff of legend. At this point, it would be an upset if Carolina selected anyone other than Newton with the first pick -- though with no second round selection and holes throughout the roster, they'll be working the phones to the last second in an effort to trade down.

Five names on Panthers' board:   
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina

Posted on: April 25, 2011 7:08 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 7:08 pm

Denver Broncos Draft Preview

Denver Broncos 2010 record: 4-12, fourth place AFC West

2011 draft rundown - Seven total picks (round): 2 (1); 36 (2); 46 (2); 67 (3); 186 (6); 189 (6); 247 (7)

Top needs:   

Defensive tackle: Denver tied a franchise-high by allowing 26 rushing touchdowns and the 2,473 yards allowed were second-most ever. The team will switch from a 3-4 back to a 4-3 front under new coach John Fox and after cutting two veterans (Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan) and likely losing two other players in free agency (Marcus Thomas, Ronald Fields), the cupboard is nearly bare. It would be something of an upset if either Alabama's Marcell Dareus or Auburn's Nick Fairley isn't Denver's first-round pick, when all is said and done.

Linebacker: The Broncos are in desperate need of someone to shore up middle linebacker. D.J. Williams has been mentioned as a possibility there but he simply hasn't demonstrated a knack for playing in the kind of traffic that position entails. Williams is best suited for weak-side linebacker. A player such as UCLA's Akeem Ayers, Washington's Mason Foster or Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal would make sense with one of the team's two second-rounders.

Safety: Brian Dawkins missed time last year with a pair of knee problems and is still as fierce and dedicated as ever. But he turns age 38, and free safety Renaldo Hill also is on the wrong side of 30. With little reliable developmental depth behind him, the team needs athletic defenders who can match up on a tight end and have the range to patrol the middle of the field. There has been a revolving door of veterans and fill-in types in Denver for several years without producing long-term, in-house options.

Tight end: Denver traded Tony Scheffler last summer and never found a replacement with sure hands that could stretch the middle of the field. The Broncos have since cut position reception leader Daniel Graham, a team captain, and the Broncos continue to wait for 2009 second-round pick Richard Quinn to emerge as a viable two-way threat. Either Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, Arkansas D.J. Williams and Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks could hear their name called by Denver at some point draft weekend.

First-round focus   2nd overall -- It is widely assumed that the Denver Broncos will select Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the No. 2 overall pick considering their gaping hole at defensive tackle, but with plenty of needs and no picks between No. 119 selections between their third and fourth picks, Denver will be listening to any and all offers to trade down. Dareus would fill a need. The powerful run-plugger has the size and strength to lock down a starting spot inside for a decade, but the team is also thought to have similar grades on LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley -- and could nab one of these players a few spots lower in the draft should they be find a willing suitor to trade. The Broncos have done their due diligence on the top quarterbacks of the 2011 class, but league insiders believe they are more satisfied with their current passers than some have suggested and are simply trying to drum up interest in trading down.

Five names on Broncos' board:   
DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
DT Nick Fairley, Auburn

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com