The 2011 season was Utah’s first in the Pac 12 conference after spending more than a decade playing football in the Mountain West. Even with a step up in competition, the team, led by Head Coach Kyle Whittingham, achieved modest success, finishing the season with an 8-5 record and a Sun Bowl win over Georgia Tech. Unfortunately, a loss to Colorado in the final game of the regular season cost the Utes a berth in the Conference Championship Game, and allowed UCLA to play for the title despite its .500 record. This season, Utah looks to rebound from that disappointment with a team led by two stars who arrived at the school by way of the junior college ranks. One of them may even work his way into top five consideration in April’s draft. Here is a look at Utah’s top draft eligible players. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Star Lotulelei DT 6’4 320 – Then a 245 defensive end, Lotulelei committed to BYU out of high school back in 2007. But after failing to qualify academically, he sat out an entire season before enrolling at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah in 2008. Once at Snow, Lotulelei played a season of football, then sat out the 2009 season while still taking classes at the school. By the time he came to Utah in 2010, Lotulelei had bulked up to over 300 pounds. He played in every game that season and started the final three. He finished the year with 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. In 2011, Lotulelei became a full time starter. He was a run stopping force in the middle of the Utes’ defense, totaling 44 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Lotulelei was even on the receiving end of a fake punt-pass against Cal that resulted in a 17-yard gain. After the season, he was named first team All-Pac 12, and the conference’s best defensive lineman. Lotulelei is an enormous man. He will routinely command double, and even triple-team blocks from the offense. He often collapses the pocket by driving opposing linemen right back into the face of the quarterback. He has good anticipation and is quick off the ball for a man of his size, but he will sometimes get caught over-pursuing the ball carrier. At this time, he’s also not much of a pass rusher. He relies on his brute strength and doesn’t show a great variety of moves. But this is a player still learning how to use his size and play his position. With the benefit of NFL coaching he could turn into a dominant player for years to come. Lotulelei will attract attention in the early part of Round One of the draft for the simple fact that players with his size and athletic ability don’t come around very often.
John White IV RB 5’8 188 – White’s post-high school career began at Los Angeles Harbor Community College, where he holds the school’s career rushing record. In his first season with the Utes, White carried 316 times for 1520 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns, and was named second team All-Pac 12. White has excellent speed and can make people miss in the open field. It’s clear that he can carry a heavy workload, and he runs with a physical style not typically seen in a player his size. This may lead to durability issues as he takes on bigger NFL defenders, but he’s a fearless runner and doesn’t seem intimidated no matter who he’s facing. He carried the ball more than 30 times in a game four times last season, topping out with 42 carries in a win over Washington State. He logged more than 25 carries in a game six times, and more than 20 on eight occasions. White has been rarely used as a receiver, and his small stature will make pass protection an issue. For all of his workhorse-type efforts at Utah, he doesn’t translate to an every-down back in the NFL. Still, White’s tough running style, quickness and agility make him a legitimate NFL prospect who could come off the board as early as the middle of Day Three of the draft.
DeVonte Christopher WR 6’1 200 – Christopher was a high school quarterback who threw for over 3000 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior. He took a redshirt in 2008 and played quarterback on the school’s scout team. As a freshman, Christopher mainly saw action on special teams. In 2010 he became a starter, caught 39 passes for 660 yards and six touchdowns, and was named honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference. Last season, as a junior, Christopher caught 42 passes for 663 yards and five touchdowns, despite missing a pair of games with an ankle injury. Christopher doesn’t have great speed, but he’s a good athlete with experience covering and returning kicks. He has a chance to catch on as a priority free agent and develop into a reliable role player over the next few years.
Also keep an eye on: Tevita Stevens C 6’3 300, Dave Kruger DT 6’5 300, Luke Matthews WR 6’2 206, Ryan Lacy CB 5’9 186
The 2011 Washington Huskies started the season 5-1 before being humbled in a 65-21 loss at Stanford. That kicked off a stretch during which the team lost five of its final seven ballgames – four by at least 17 points. Head Coach Steve Sarkisian, who took over the team following an 0-12 season in 2008, is now 19-19 through three seasons at the helm. He’s helped bring the program back to respectability and taken them to back-to-back bowl games. Now the Husky faithful are anxious to see if he can get the team over the hump. Here’s a look at Washington’s top draft eligible prospects. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Keith Price* QB 6’1 202 – Price redshirted in 2009, then saw limited action in eight games during the 2010 season. With just one career start under his belt, Price became the full time starter last season and performed well in leading the team to a second consecutive 7-6 record. Price threw for over 3000 yards and 33 touchdowns while completing 67% of his passes. Price threw 11 interceptions, but only one over the course of his final four games. He doesn’t take off and run very often; but he has some speed and he does a good job using his feet to buy time to throw. Price is riding the momentum of a signature performance in a shoot out loss to Robert Griffin III and Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. In that game, Price threw for 438 yards, averaged nearly 11 yards per pass attempt, and completed four touchdown passes without an interception. Price looks to have pretty good arm strength and is an excellent athlete, but he’s undersized. There will be questions about whether he can stand in the pocket and see down the field, and whether he can withstand hits from NFL defensive linemen. Price has two years of eligibility remaining so he’ll have plenty of time to add some strength, hone his skills and work on answering some of those concerns.
Desmond Trufant CB 6’0 186 – Trufant has started 35 of the 38 games he’s played in since coming to Washington in 2009. In his career he has intercepted five passes, broken up 24 others, forced two fumbles, returned a fumble for a touchdown, and even returned a blocked extra point for a two point conversion. NFL ability runs in the Trufant family. Desmond’s oldest brother Marcus is a long time veteran cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks; and older brother Isaiah has seen time in the NFL as well. Trufant is a tough cover man and is able to locate and get his hands on the ball. He has good recovery speed for those instances where he gets a little too aggressive. Trufant is thin and lanky. He isn’t afraid to mix it up and make a tackle, he just isn’t very strong or good at wrapping up. He’s never going to be counted on for his help against the run. But Trufant will have plenty of opportunities to compete against some elite receivers this season. He’ll have games against Robert Woods and Marquis Lee of USC, Keenan Allen of Cal, Dan Buckner of Arizona, Markus Wheaton of Oregon State and Marquess Wilson of Washington State. Strong showings in a few of those matchups could help vault Trufant up draft boards.
Also keep an eye on: James Johnson WR 6’1 197, Semisi Tokolahi DT 6’2 340, Drew Schaefer C 6’4 294
Brigham Young University finished 10-3 in its first season as an Independent in 2011. That pushed Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s record to 66-24 through seven seasons at the helm. This season, the Cougars help kickoff the college football season tonight with a late game against Washington State and their new Head Coach Mike Leach. Here’s a look at BYU’s top draft eligible players. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Cody Hoffman* WR 6’4 215 – Hoffman wasn’t highly regarded out of high school and he wound up redshirting in his first year at BYU. As a freshman, Hoffman started 10 games and finished the season with 42 catches for 527 yards and seven touchdowns. Hoffman’s coming out party was in the New Mexico Bowl that season when he caught eight passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns. Last season, after a slow start, Hoffman surpassed 100 yards in a game five times. He finished the year with 61 grabs for 943 yards and 10 TDs. Once again Hoffman came up huge in the team’s bowl game win. This time, Hoffman hauled in eight passes for 122 yards and three more touchdowns. Hoffman has excellent size and uses his body to get between the ball and the defender. He has terrific hands and gets them out in front of his body when he’s making the catch. Hoffman isn’t known for his speed but he has shown ability to get open down the field. There will be questions about the level of competition he faces, but he looks very polished running routes and he demonstrates good body control while the ball is in the air. Hoffman runs well after the catch and his size makes him difficult to bring down in the open field. His solid blocking and kick return ability adds even more to his value. Hoffman has two years of eligibility remaining so he may opt to return to BYU in 2013. But given his size and impressive skill set, he may decide to leave school early if he can determine that he’ll be chosen within the first two days of the draft.
Kyle Van Noy* OLB 6’3 235 – A four star recruit who played receiver and linebacker in high school, Van Noy redshirted in his first year in Provo. As a freshman he played in every game and started two, collecting 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, and scoring a touchdown on a fumble return. As a sophomore, Van Noy started eight of 13 games and racked up 15 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three interceptions and a blocked punt. Van Noy is a terrific athlete who has added significant bulk since arriving at BYU. He has the size and strength to shed blockers, the speed to rush the passer, and the agility and awareness to be used effectively in pass coverage. Van Noy has intriguing ability and has been a fast riser to this point; but he has two years of eligibility remaining, so this will probably not be his last season for the Cougars.
Riley Nelson QB 6’0 199 – Nelson played quarterback and defensive back in high school, and originally committed to Utah State way back in 2006. He actually even saw some game action as a true freshman. But while on a subsequent Mormon mission, Nelson’s family learned that a scholarship had opened up at BYU. Amid some controversy, Nelson decided to leave Utah State and transfer to Brigham Young. The circumstances surrounding this move prompted the NCAA to institute the “Riley Nelson Rule” – a piece of legislation that basically tells schools to refrain from contacting any student athletes while they are on religious missions. In the end, Nelson arrived at BYU in 2009 and saw limited action as a backup. In 2010 he started the first three games before a shoulder injury wrecked his season. He was granted a medical redshirt and regained his starting job five games into the 2011 season. The Cougars went 6-1 in Nelson’s seven starts, as he threw three touchdown passes five separate times during that stretch. He will enter his senior season as the unquestioned, full time starter. As interesting as Nelson’s story is however, he lacks the size or requisite arm strength necessary to succeed as a pro quarterback. He shows good leadership skills and determination, but he doesn’t have the skill set to get much attention from the scouting community. Nelson is a tough player, who should lead BYU to a respectable season; but his pro potential appears to exist only at the tryout level.
Also keep an eye on: Braden Hansen G 6’6 307, Uona Kavelinga ILB 5’11 233, Brandon Ogletree ILB 5’11 228, Braden Brown OT 6’6 300
(This post first appeared at NFLDraftMonsters.com. Be sure to check both sites for my latest posts)
Arizona State started the 2011 season with five wins in their first six games – including a victory over USC – behind Head Coach Dennis Erickson and junior quarterback Brock Osweiler. Going into their game against UCLA, the Sun Devils’ record still stood at a respectable 6-2. Then the wheels fell off. A defeat at the hands of the Bruins was the first of five consecutive losses to finish the season. Erickson wound up fired and Osweiler left for the NFL, and now the team is in rebuilding mode under new Head Coach Todd Graham. Here’s a quick look at ASU’s top draft eligible players. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Jamal Miles WR 5’10 184 – Listed at wide receiver, Miles was a high school running back who plays an all-purpose role for the Sun Devils. He played seven games as a freshman and was used primarily as a kick return man. As a sophomore in 2010, Miles scored seven total touchdowns – two rushing, four receiving, and one on a 99-yard kickoff return. Last season, Miles scored on two kickoff returns, one punt return, six pass receptions, and even threw for a touchdown. Miles’ yards per reception average has been relatively low. He was the target on many passes into the flat and bubble screens from Osweiler, as the goal always seemed to be to get Miles in space when he could gain yards after the catch. He is small in stature, but has estimated 4.4 second speed. NFL scouts may envision Miles as a potential slot receiver. Miles is an elusive runner and a dynamic return man, but he has very little experience running pro-style pass routes. He’s quick with good change of direction skills, but he isn’t asked to make a lot of tough catches. His ability as a true receiver is mostly projection up to this point in his career. But Miles ability to make plays in the return game and his game-breaking potential make him worth a look starting around the middle of Day Three of the draft.
Cameron Marshall RB 5’11 215 – Marshall appeared in 11 games as a freshman – including one start – and ran for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As a sophomore he became a full time starter, and rushed for 787 yards, caught 21 passes and scored ten total touchdowns. Last year was Marshall’s breakout season. He rushed for 1050 yards, including games of 141 against USC and 157 against Cal, and scored 18 rushing touchdowns. He was the first Arizona State runner to surpass 1000 yards in five years, and he did so despite running between a less-than-stellar offensive line. Marshall has good size and runs with power, making him tough for one tackler to bring down. He’s a good receiving back and is shifty enough to make people miss in open space. He shows good vision as a runner and has enough speed to break long runs if he gets into the second level of the defense. A solid, if unspectacular running back prospect, Marshall looks like an early-to-mid Day Three pick at this early stage.
Also keep an eye on: Brandon Magee OLB 6’0 228, Keelan Johnson FS 6’1 207, Rashad Ross WR 6’0 167
People wouldn’t normally peg Washington State, a team that finished 4-8 for the season and 2-7 in their conference, as a team to watch for 2012. But then the Cougars went and hired Mike Leach – a Head Coach notorious for his pass happy offenses and feud with Craig James – and they became an instant talking point for the upcoming season. It might take a couple of years before Wazzu truly challenges their upper-echelon Pac 12 opponents, but in the meantime they promise to put up plenty of points and passing yards. Here’s a look at the Cougars’ top draft-eligible players. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Marquess Wilson* 6’4 185 – The tall, lanky Wilson was a three star recruit out of high school who made an immediate impact as a freshman in Pullman. In his first game he caught four passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma State. He added four more 100-yard performances over the course of the season, and finished the year with 1006 yards and an 18.3 yards per reception average. As a sophomore in 2011, Wilson hauled in 82 passes for 1388 yards and 12 touchdowns. His spectacular season included games of 236 yards and two touchdowns against San Diego State, 223 yards and three touchdowns against Arizona State, and an 11-catch game against Oregon. Despite his gaudy statistics, Wilson is very much a work in progress. While his long frame and excellent body control allow him to get to balls other receivers can’t, his technique is very raw. He lines up at the line of scrimmage hunched over at the waist with his back almost parallel to the turf. If he doesn’t correct this, savvier cornerbacks will use his own leverage against him right off the snap. Wilson is all arms and legs, so while he is smooth running down field routes that require subtle fakes, he looks clumsy or awkward on some comeback routes and slants. In addition, Wilson is just so thin that there are going to be questions about his ability to catch passes over the middle. Will Wilson be able to hang in and hold onto a ball with a safety like Troy Polamalu or Eric Berry bearing down on him? Will Wilson break in half if he’s hit? Wilson is almost guaranteed to put up big numbers this season in Leach’s offense, but he might be best served to return in 2013 so he can put on about 20 pounds in the weight room and fine tune his route running.
Travis Long OLB 6’4 245 – Long has been a starter for the Cougars since Day One. As a freshman, he led the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. As a sophomore he was named honorable mention All-Pac 10 (it was still Pac-10 at that time) for the second year in a row, and finished the season with five sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Then last season he finished the year with four sacks and 12 tackles for loss, and was named second team All-Pac 12. Long has played in and started all 36 games of his college career at defensive end. This season, he’ll line up as the team’s “buck linebacker” – a hybrid combination of end and linebacker, which will include some new responsibilities for the senior. Long has dropped a little weight, likely in an effort to add some quickness, and it will be interesting to see how that impacts his strength. His ability to provide help in pass coverage is also a question mark. But Long is known as a smart player, and he has the respect of his teammates. His work ethic and desire to handle his new role will not be issues this season. A strong performance in 2012 will showcase his versatility and only help his draft stock.
Also keep an eye on: Jeff Tuel QB 6’3 223, Andrei Lintz WR/TE 6’5 250, Daniel Simmons CB 5’10 184, Tyree Toomer FS 5’11 200
Rick Neuheisel’s fourth year as the Head Coach at UCLA ended up being his final one. In fact, he was fired just days after a 50-0 loss to archrival USC. The Bruins finished the season 6-8 yet somehow managed to play in both the Pac-12 Conference Championship Game and a bowl game, illustrating that college football’s merit system often has as many holes in it as a slice of Swiss cheese. With the “success” of 2011 in its rearview mirror, UCLA enters 2012 with a new Head Coach, Jim Mora Jr., and new philosophies on both sides of the ball. They also welcome P Diddy’s (Puff Daddy’s?) son into the fold as an incoming freshman. These are exciting new times for the Bruins. Here’s a look at their top draft eligible prospects. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Cassius Marsh* DE 6’3 275 – Marsh was the fourth rated defensive tackle recruit in the country in 2010. But during his time at UCLA, he may be best known for swinging his helmet amid the bizarre brawl that broke out in a game against Arizona last fall. His antics earned him a two game suspension. This was nothing new for Marsh. He has earned a reputation for being a hot head after numerous dust-ups and tantrums at Bruin practices. On the field, that mean streak has translated to uneven and underwhelming play. In 23 games, he has just two sacks and six tackles for loss. This year, under Mora Jr., Marsh will play defensive end in the team’s new 3-4 alignment. He seems to have taken to his new role and new coach, and is reportedly demonstrating maturity and a strong work ethic. Perhaps this will be the year Marsh finally lives up to his billing.
Datone Jones DE 6’4 275 – Jones was another highly regarded high school recruit heading into his Bruins career. As a freshman in 2008, he played in ten games and made two starts. As a sophomore he started every game, and finished the season with four sacks, 14 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Jones broke his foot prior to his junior season and was forced to take a medical redshirt. When he returned last season, he never quite regained the form he’d shown as a sophomore. He looked as if he’d lost a step, and he had trouble getting off his blocks. With Mora running the 3-4 this season, Jones’ role will change. He’ll most likely line up at end in the base defense; but he has experience playing inside, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him line up there in passing situations. If Jones can successfully demonstrate scheme versatility this season, it will do nothing but improve his standing with pro scouts.
Johnathan Franklin RB 5’11 195 – Franklin took a redshirt season in 2008, but starred on UCLA’s scout team. He started eight games the following year and led the team with 566 rushing yards. As a sophomore, Franklin broke the 1000-yard barrier, something no Bruin had done since 2006, and finished with 1127 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Last year, Franklin averaged 5.9 yards per carry and came up just shy of his second straight 1000-yard season. His efforts earned him a nod as honorable mention All-Pac 12. Franklin is a quick runner with good speed and moves in the open field. He has a small frame and doesn’t run with a lot of power. He goes down fairly easily and has also been bothered by ball security issues at times. He will simply have to do a better job protecting the football if he hopes to make an NFL roster. Despite a lack of experience as a receiver, Franklin’s skill set best translates to a change-of-pace role in the NFL. If he can learn to hold onto the ball consistently, he has potential to be a useful NFL player.
Joseph Fauria TE 6’7 255 – The nephew of former NFL tight end Christian Fauria, Joseph originally committed to Notre Dame. He played sparingly as a freshman in 2008 before sitting out the 2009 season so he could transfer to UCLA. In his first year with the Bruins, Fauria played mostly on special teams, but he closed out the season with a touchdown reception in each of the team’s final two games. He started the 2011 season off with his first (and only to date) 100-yard receiving effort. He wound up starting nine games, and catching 39 passes for 481 yards and six touchdowns. Fauria is a massive target who appears to run well for a man his size. He has reliable hands and can fight off defenders for positioning. Scouts would like to see better blocking out of him, but he’s the type of player who could help out early in the passing game. For a detailed scouting report on Fauria click here.
Also keep an eye on: Kevin Prince QB 6’2 230, Jeff Baca G 6’3 295, Aaron Hester CB 6’1 207, Sheldon Price CB 6’2 180, Richard Brehaut QB 6’2 230, Dalton Hilliard FS 5’11 198, Jeff Locke P 6’0 207
Oregon State lost its season opener in front of a home crowd, in overtime, to FCS Sacramento State; and that pretty much set the tone for their entire season. They started out 0-4 and stumbled to 3-9 season. It was the Beavers’ worst record since finishing 2-9 in 1996. The team looks to turn things around this year. Sophomore Sean Mannion, a former four-star recruit, returns to play quarterback after showing promise as a redshirt freshman. The problem is, he doesn’t appear to have a lot of help. Here’s a look at Oregon State’s top draft eligible players. Underclassmen are designated with an asterisk…
Jordan Poyer CB 6’0 190 – Poyer was a lightly regarded recruit out of high school, yet still managed to get on the field for all 13 games as a freshman in 2009. As a sophomore he served as the team’s primary kick return man and saw increased action on defense. Late that season, in a stunning win over USC, he returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown. Last season, Poyer was a second team All-Big 10 cornerback who intercepted four passes (including on he returned for a touchdown against BYU) and broke up 12 others. While continuing his return duties on special teams, Poyer took a punt 85 yards to the house in a loss to UCLA. Now, entering his senior season, Poyer has gone from recruiting afterthought to potential early round draft pick. He has good size and is aggressive in coverage. He’s a sure tackler with added value on special teams. Poyer is best suited for zone coverage, but he has good speed and a knack for getting himself in position to make plays. Poyer was arrested back in May after a disturbance outside of a nightclub, but the issue does not appear to be serious. If he can continue the progression he’s shown as a defender since arriving in Corvallis, and prove that his legal run-in was a minor misunderstanding, Poyer could come off the board early on Day Two of the draft.
Markus Wheaton WR 6’1 182 – After a nondescript freshman season, Wheaton hauled in 55 passes for 675 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore. Then last year he led the Beavers with 73 catches and 986 yards, yet he found the end zone just a single time. Wheaton is a burner with terrific deep speed. His ability to elude tacklers allow Oregon State coaches to mix in designed runs to get Wheaton the ball in space. In his career he’s carried the ball for 489 yards and three touchdowns while averaging nearly eight yards per carry. Wheaton has a thin frame, so he might have trouble getting off the line against bigger cornerbacks. But he’s reportedly been working hard to add strength. Wheaton is ready to embrace a leadership role with the team and is expecting a big year. With a strong season he could work his way into the third or fourth round range of the draft.
Also keep and eye on: Sean Mannion* QB 6’5 215