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.
TEXAS A&M AGGIES
NFL Draft picks the last five years: 13
2012 NFL Draft picks: Four -- QB Ryan Tannehill (First Round, No. eight overall), K Randy Bullock (Fifth Round, No. 161 overall), RB Cyrus Gray (Sixth Round, No. 182 overall), DB Terrence Frederick (Seventh Round, No. 246 overall).
Blowing double-digit leads in the second half of games against Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas State and arch rival Texas last season cost Mike Sherman his job as the head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies. While he and his staff's play-calling late in these games certainly was called into question and contributing to his release, one must acknowledge the incredible leap in talent that Sherman recruited to College Station after inheriting a once proud program that had been teetering on the verge of irrelevancy from a national perspective.
Fresh off of guiding the Houston Cougars to a 13-1 record, Kevin Sumlin accepted the Aggies' head coaching position. He enters with the luxury of already having a bevy of legitimate NFL talent surrounding him but with Texas A&M entering the SEC this season and essentially no experience at the quarterback position to replace Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, he'll need it.
Talent evaluators have long argued that the greatest difference between the SEC and the other major conferences in college football lies with the size and athleticism of the defensive linemen. It remains to be seen how well A&M's new starting quarterback, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, will fare this season but the team is as well prepared to handle the SEC's dominant defensive lines as anyone. The Aggies boast a talented and experienced group up front, highlighted by the country's top set of bookend tackles in juniors Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, each of whom NFLDraftScout.com projects as potential first round picks.
Top five prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft
1. OT Luke Joeckel (6-6, 310)*
Because of his bloodlines, the Aggies' starting right tackle Jake Matthews receives much of the limited fanfare that goes to Texas A&M's offensive linemen but Joeckel (pictured above) has demonstrated the combination of size and athleticism in starting the past two seasons at the all-important left tackle position that he could ultimately beat out his linemate when he elects to make himself eligible to the NFL. Joeckel (pronounced JOKE-ell) was a highly regarded prep prospect who signed with the Aggies over the likes of Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma and many others. He won the starting left tackle position as a true freshman and has started all 26 games since, earning a spot on the Big 12's All-Freshman team in 2010 and First Team honors by the Associated Press this past season (coaches voted him to the second team). Joeckel eases back off the snap, showing the light feet, lateral agility and flexibility to handle speed and/or power as a pass blocker. He plays on the balls of his feet with his knees bent, hips down and arms extended in textbook form. Joeckel isn't a mauler in the running game, relying more on his technique and athleticism to seal off defenders rather than simply drive them off the ball but he's a reliable performer in this regard, as well. Joeckel isn't a finished product but he demonstrates such a combination of size and fluidity already that it isn't tough to imagine a similar ascent up draft boards as we've seen in recent years from the likes of Matt Kalil (Southern Cal) and even All-Pro Joe Thomas (Wisconsin), the No. 4 and No. 3 picks of the 2012 and 2007 NFL drafts, respectively.
If his teammate Luke Joeckel is the best left tackle in college football, Matthews may just be the country's elite collegiate strongside tackle. While he does not possess Joeckel's light feet, Matthews is the stronger and more physical run blocker of the two and is perfectly suited to remain at this position whenever he should elect to make himself eligible to the NFL. Matthews signed with the Aggies with great fanfare as his father is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, who starred all along the offensive line for 19 seasons with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans. Jake proved early on that he was worthy of the hype, solidifying the Aggies' offensive line once he entered the starting lineup in week six of the 2010 season (Missouri) as the team battled injuries up front. Despite starting just seven games as a true freshman he was recognized by the media as an honorable mention all-conference performer and was acknowledged as such again this past season. Matthews is quick off the snap and uses his long, strong arms and good mobility to control his opponents when pass blocking. He can get himself in trouble when he stops moving his feet but more often that not once he grabs ahold of his opponent, it is game over for the defense. In much this same way, Matthews is a terrific run blocker. Though athletic enough to surprise defenders with an occasional chop block or slipping out to the second level to nail a linebacker, he's at his best simply driving defensive ends off the ball and creating lanes for A&M's running backs to slice through. Matthews' lack of elite foot speed and balance may limit just how high he can go on draft day but if he proves capable of handling the jump in athleticism he's likely to face in the SEC, a top 40 grade is certainly within his grasp.
Starring as a pass rushing outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid for the Aggies, Von Miller earned the Butkus Award and wound up being the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. Demonstrating similar athleticism and fluidity Porter has been characterized by some as the next Miller. The fact that he led the Big 12 with 9.5 sacks and was third in the conference with 17 tackles for loss at outside linebacker for the Aggies last season would seem to provide ample evidence that this comparison holds true. In reality, Porter isn't the natural pass rusher than Miller is (few are), though he certainly remains a highly regarded prospect by NFL teams. Rather than attacking offensive tackles on his way to the quarterback like his former teammate, Porter is at his best in pursuit of ball-carriers on the flanks and operating in coverage. He reads the action quickly and can slice through gaps, beating offensive linemen to the action to rack up plays near the line of scrimmage consistently. He's fluid and fast enough that he's often asked to line up over the slot and handle quick coverage responsibilities; traits that could earn him a spot as a weakside linebacker in a predominantly 4-3 aligned team in the NFL. Porter signed with Texas A&M as a relatively lightly recruited prospect but quickly made his impact on the Aggies, starting two games and recording 43 tackles and four tackles for loss in 2009. As a full-time starter in 2010, Porter flashed the ability to rack up tackles that would earn him all-conference honors a year later, recording 73 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and six pass breakups. Scouts would like to see him play with greater physicality as he too often relies on his athleticism to beat blockers to the action rather than taking them on physically. His speed and flexibility allow him to slip under pass blockers and get to the quarterback but too often once he's locked up, he is unable to separate. His great speed and experience in coverage, however, could make him one of the better pass defending linebackers in the 2013 draft which likely will translate into a top 50 selection.
4. RB Christine Michael (5-10, 220)
With the exception of longstanding football "factories" like Alabama, LSU, Southern California and Ohio State (among others) most teams' No. 4 rated prospects are middle to late round prospects, at best. Only the fact that Texas A&M boasts three potential top 40 prospects at unique positions of value to NFL teams pushes Michael slightly down the board in this post, as he enters the 2012 rated by some talent evaluators as the top senior running back in the country. If he can remain healthy in 2012 -- something he's been unable to do each of the past two seasons -- he could earn a spot in the first two rounds of the 2013 draft. Michael exploded onto the Big 12 as a true freshman, earning the coaches' Freshman of the Year award for leading the Aggies with 844 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns despite starting only four games. Michael rotated with Cyrus Gray as the Aggies' starting running back in 2010 and was leading the team with 631 yards and four scores over the first eight games when he was lost for the remainder of the season after suffering a broken right leg against Texas Tech. Last year, he once again demonstrated his talents, rushing for a career-high 899 yards and eight scores in the first nine games (including six starts) before tearing the ACL in his left knee against Oklahoma. When healthy, Michael has shown many of the attributes scouts are looking for in a headlining back. He's quick to the hole, shows excellent vision for the cutback, possesses good acceleration and enough lateral agility to elude defenders. He sees would-be tacklers coming and breaks a lot of tackles with a nice spin move, as well as a strong stiff-arm. Should Michael be able to remain healthy, he could leapfrog other, bigger names (like Wisconsin's Montee Ball, for example) as the top senior running back prospect in the country. Yet another injury, however, could prove disastrous for his stock with NFL teams.
5. WR Ryan Swope (6-0, 206)
Entering the 2011 season all of the hype revolving around the Aggies' receiving corps centered on senior wideout Jeff Fuller, who'd set the single-season record at Texas A&M with 1,066 receiving yards the previous year and was on his way towards setting the career mark for receiving touchdowns (34). Returning quarterback Ryan Tannehill, understandably, focused much of his attention on Fuller last season but the senior wideout struggled with drops at critical moments and slot receiver Ryan Swope emerged as Tannehill's most trusted target. This wasn't a huge surprise, as Swope led the team in receptions (a then-school record 72) the year before but many of his catches as a sophomore were on underneath routes that resulted in relatively few big plays (825 yards and four TDs). This past season, however, Swope enjoyed the greatest season (statistically-speaking) in the history of Texas A&M football, catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 scores. The catch total and receiving yards shattered school records and his 11 scores were just one behind the 12 Fuller caught in 2010. Swope isn't a flashy athlete but he's a terrific football player. He possesses the ideal build for a slot receiver in today's NFL and is an accomplished route-runner with sticky hands. He does not possess the elite speed to run away from defenders with the consistency that his big plays last season might lead one to believe but isn't just a safety outlet, either. With the Aggies introducing a new quarterback this season it will be difficult for Swope to match the production he had a season ago with Tannehill. Regardless of his statistics in 2012, Swope has already demonstrated the toughness and consistency NFL scouts are looking for. Don't be surprised when he earns a top 100 selection and winds up enjoying a more successful NFL career than some of the elite athletes selected ahead of him.
OLB/DE Damontre Moore (6-4, 250)*
OG Patrick Lewis (6-2, 312)
WR Uzoma Nwachuku (6-0, 195)
WR/H-Back Michael Lamothe (6-3, 235)
S Steven Campbell (6-0, 202)
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