In preparation for the 2013 NFL Draft, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top draft-eligible prospects from FBS-level programs. This summer series will run until the start of the college football season.
NFL Draft picks the past five years: Nine
2012 NFL Draft picks: Two -- OG Ryan Miller (Fifth Round, No. 160 overall), WR Toney Clemons (Seventh Round, No. 231 overall).
The Colorado Buffaloes entered the Pac-12 a season ago with a resounding thud. Under first-year head coach Jon Embree, the team lost nine of their first ten games. The one exception was a victory over rival Colorado State.
A funny thing happened on the way to the cellar of the Pac-12 South, however. Despite their record and a series of injuries that bordered on catastrophic, the Buffaloes kept playing hard and they won two of their final three games, including a 17-14 stunner over fellow new conference opponent Utah, which kept the Utes from facing Oregon in the initial Pac-12 championship.
Unfortunately, the injury bug that wiped out this team's chances at making their first bowl game since 2007 again struck during the off-season as Colorado lost their best player, true junior wideout Paul Richardson, to a torn ACL during the spring.
Recognizing the lack of talent and need to reinvigorate the fan base, Embree and his staff are committed to change. They'll feature one of the country's youngest teams in 2012 and therefore a significant gain in the win column isn't expected this season.
Only two years ago the Buffs (coached then by Dan Hawkins) sent a pair of first rounders into the NFL (OT Nate Solder, CB Jimmy Smith). This current Buffaloes team may have lost their best chance at producing a top 50 prospect in the 2013 draft with the injury to Richardson, but several prospects remain who could pique the interest of scouts.
Top-five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. OLB Doug Rippy (6-2, 232)
Rippy only played in three Pac-12 games in 2011 and yet still was voted an honorable mention member of the all-conference team by league coaches. Rippy had racked up an impressive 43 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks -- numbers that if pro-rated over the course of the season would have led the Buffs in each category -- but suffered a torn ACL against Washington, ending his junior season prematurely. The fact that Rippy received acknowledgement from rival coaches at all was a significant statement as he'd struggled to earn playing time prior to the 2011 season, shifting back and forth between inside and outside linebacker during the Hawkins era and entering the year having only accounted for a combined 10 tackles over the first three years (redshirted in 2008) of his collegiate career. The light seemed to come on for Rippy last season, however, making the timing of his injury all the more unfortunate. Though Rippy did not participate in spring practices, Colorado expects him to be back in action in the fall. Blessed with size, speed and power, Rippy looks the part. With an impressive senior season, he could make a significant leap up draft boards.
2. OT David Bakhtiari (6-4, 295)*
While the Buffs haven't been the consistent producer of NFL talent like some of their former Big 12 or current Pac-12 foes, one area in which they've routinely developed prospects is along the offensive line. Though only entering his redshirt junior season, Bakhtiari (pronounced Bock-T-are-E) (pictured above) has already established himself as a legitimate NFL-caliber talent, following in the footsteps of Nate Solder (New England Patriots) and Ryan Miller (Cleveland Browns), former Colorado standouts selected in the first and fifth rounds of the 2011 and 2012 drafts, respectively. After redshirting in 2009, Bakhtiari was thrown into the fire at right tackle in 2010, starting 11 games (playing in all 12) and earning honorable mention all-conference honors from the AP. This past season he made the switch to left tackle and was recognized as a second team all-conference performer. He's allowed only three sacks in his first two seasons of action and flashes the initial quickness, balance and upper body strength to control opponents. Eric Bakhtiari, David's only brother, was a standout defensive lineman at San Diego State and currently is on the San Francisco 49ers' roster.
3. FS Ray Polk (6-0, 205)
A former highly regarded running back prospect, Polk made the switch to free safety and has developed into one of Colorado's most dependable players. Like Rippy, Polk looks the part, offering an exciting combination of size and athleticism and is a fearless hitter. One of the concerns about him, in fact, is that he has shown a willingness to go for the splashy hit, which has contributed to his own durability concerns and drawn several penalty flags over his career. Polk tied for second on the Buffs with 80 tackles a season ago despite missing two games due to a concussion. Most players would have missed considerably more time as Polk played much of last season with a cracked sternum, as well. Statistically-speaking, Polk hasn't shown much in terms of pass defense. He enters his senior campaign having started 26 games and in that time has broken up only seven passes and recorded just one interception. Scouts might be willing to cut him a break on those totals considering that the Buffs have often been forced to play Polk especially deep to protect a cornerback group that was ravaged by injuries in 2011 but to boost his stock Polk will have to demonstrate better instincts and ball skills as a senior.
4. DT Will Pericak (6-4, 285)
Pericak (pronounced pre-check) signed with Colorado as a highly regarded prep linebacker prospect and briefly was considered as a possible convert to tight end. Instead, he got bigger and stronger, quietly developing into one of the more underrated defensive tackles in the Pac-12. After redshirting in 2008, Pericak has started all 37 games since, earning honorable mention all-conference honors (Big 12 in 2010, Pac-12 in 2011) after each of the past two seasons despite less than eye-popping statistics (averaging 38 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks). He was the first player in school history to start every game as a freshman (true or redshirt). Pericak isn't an elite athlete but is country strong, showing the ability to knock opponents back onto their heels with good upper body strength and developing hand play -- traits that could serve him well as a rotational defensive tackle or 3-4 defensive end. While there is a lot to like about the rugged Pericak, scouts will want to do their homework on Pericak. While he subsequently determined by a jury to be not guilty of all charges, Pericak was arrested January 29 in a Boulder-area pub for allegedly lighting a fire in a metal bucket inside the establishment and refusing to leave the premises.
5. WR Paul Richardson (6-1, 178)*
Possessing a lanky frame, pure speed and the vision to make the spectacular happen once the ball is in his hands, Richardson exploded onto the national scene as a true freshman, breaking the school record with six receiving touchdowns in 2010 and earning comparisons to everyone from DeSean Jackson to Antonio Brown along the way. Though the Buffs' struggled at quarterback in 2011, Richardson still demonstrated his big play ability, catching 39 passes for 555 yards and another five scores while missing four full games (and parts of several others) due to a torn MCL. Unfortunately, the injury bug didn't leave Richardson following the 2011 season, as he suffered a torn ACL during spring practices April 9, likely ending his 2012 campaign before it could even begin. Richardson is the Buffaloes' best NFL prospect and, as such, the playmaking receiver would have been listed first on this report had he not suffered the injury. Richardson announced his via his Twitter account July 3rd that doctors have cleared him to resume running, creating speculation that he could return to the field this season. The Buffaloes quickly released a statement, however, noting that while Richardson's recovery is coming along faster than expected, he's only running straight-ahead at this point and not making cuts or running routes. If Richardson is somehow able to return to the field for the Buffaloes this season, his presence would help considerably as he's proven when healthy to be a difference-maker and one worthy of potentially high NFL draft consideration. Having only used two years of his college eligibility thus far, however, the smarter approach for Richardson and the Buffaloes might be to exercise significant caution and allow the potential superstar time to sufficiently heal from his serious injury.
DE/OLB Chidera Uzo-Diribe (6-3, 240)
OLB Jon Major (6-1, 230)
OG Ryan Dannewitz (6-6, 295)
TE/DE Nick Kasa (6-5, 272)
For all of NFLDraftScout.com's team by team previews of the top prospects to watch in the 2012 season in preparation for the 2013 NFL draft, click here.
Photo credit: US Presswire