TEMPE, Ariz. -- In his most recent mock draft, ESPN NFL Draft Insider Mel Kiper believes the Arizona Cardinals will bolster their secondary with their first pick in the 2015 draft.

He predicted the Cardinals would take LSU cornerback Jalen Collins with the 24th overall choice in the first round.

I disagree.

I think there are more pressing needs for the Cardinals to address in the first round than a cornerback. Last season, the Cardinals had two Pro Bowlers in Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson on the edges, and Jerraud Powers at nickel corner. If Cromartie doesn't re-sign, Powers would be the likely candidate to take his spot unless the Cardinals find a veteran corner in free agency.

But drafting a corner in the first round doesn’t make sense for the Cardinals. They need an athletic inside linebacker and pass-rusher or maybe even a running back if the right prospect falls to them, more than they need to spend the money on a corner.

As Kiper described Collins, who had three interceptions to complement 90 tackles and 25 pass break ups in three years at LSU, he’s still a “work in progress” which essentially means he won’t be ready to start as a rookie.

Collins, who would be joining fellow LSU Tigers Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu if Kiper were to be correct, may be a better fit for a team later in the first round.

Dari Nowkhah and Barrett Sallee look at Defensive Coordinator John Chavis and his move to Texas A&M.

Ultimate ESPN 300 class rankings

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11

When looking at the top prospects in the Ultimate ESPN 300, it became clear that a top-10 class doesn't guarantee success on the field. Consistently signing top-rated classes, though, can increase the chances for consistent success.

Below is a look at the 10 programs that assembled the "ultimate" classes from 2006 to 2014. These teams have not only been able to ink highly rated classes, but have also consistently developed top players while winning big. During this span these programs have accounted for eight top-rated classes and six BCS championships, as well as all four participants of the first College Football Playoff.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama has signed seven straight top-three recruiting classes and 2014 marked its third straight top-ranked class. That success on the recruiting trail has helped produce consistent success on the field over this span, including three BCS titles and a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide's recruiting haul during this period included a Heisman Trophy winner in RB Mark Ingram as well as three other finalists in QB AJ McCarron and RB Trent Richardson, who signed in 2009, and most recently WR Amari Cooper from the 2012 class. Alabama's recruiting success also resulted in numerous All-Americans and All-SEC players. While the Tide have consistently recruited well under Nick Saban, their 2008 and 2009 classes were the most impactful. The 2008 class included Ingram, WR Julio Jones and several key defensive players like Marcel Dareus and Dont'a Hightower. McCarron, Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick and outstanding OLs Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker were members of the 2009 class. The 2014 class delivered No. 1 OT Cameron Robinson, who became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Alabama since Andre Smith in 2006.

The days of waiting for youngsters to make impact in college football are over. If you're a top freshman prospect, you're expected to come in and contribute.

So much for slacking on your training before prom.

But more and more, freshmen are proving to be up for the task of immediate playing time and immediate pressure. Coaches aren't afraid to throw these guys into the fire, and it's working out all around the country.

So who are some freshmen to keep an eye on in the SEC from the 2015 class?

Edward Aschoff: DT Trenton Thompson, Georgia
What the Bulldogs needed in this class were hefty, intimidating, athletic defensive linemen. Georgia got all of that in Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 311-pound behemoth who could see immediate playing time for a Bulldogs team in need of help at the defensive tackle spot. With only five scholarship defensive linemen returning, Thompson will have every opportunity to compete for a starting spot. The five-star was the No. 2-rated defensive tackle nationally, according to ESPN’s RecruitingNation, and was named the 2014 Maxwell Football Club’s National High School Player of the Year. Georgia needs a quality plug in the middle who can stop the run and harass quarterbacks. Thompson has everything needed to be that in 2015.

David Ching: DE Arden Key, LSU
I touched on this subject from an LSU perspective earlier this week. The first player I listed in that post was Key, ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end, because he can help address an immediate need. LSU must replace starting defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. There is some talent returning – Tashawn Bower seems to be a leading candidate to take over one of the starting spots – but nobody has proven himself as a college player yet. LSU struggled to generate sacks last season, finishing 102nd nationally with just 19. Les Miles and his assistants believe Key can help address that issue right away.

Sam Khan Jr.: S Deionte Thompson, Alabama
The ESPN 300 prospect has good size (6-2, 180) and speed and the advantage of being an early enrollee. Thompson, the nation's No. 3 safety and the No. 65 player overall in the ESPN 300, is a versatile athlete (he was a talented high school track and field athlete) and given the departures at safety for Alabama (two graduated plus Landon Collins declared for the draft) there will be spots available. Don't be shocked if Thompson works his way into one of them and plays well.

Greg Ostendorf: S Jamal Peters, Mississippi State
Peters, ranked No. 40 in the ESPN 300, is the highest-ranked player to sign at Mississippi State since Dan Mullen took over, slightly surpassing current defensive lineman Chris Jones (No. 46). Last week, Mullen was already raving about his new toy at his signing day news conference. With Jay Hughes graduating, there’s an opening at the strong safety spot that’s perfect for Peters to come in and play right away. It’s not an easy position to play early, but Peters has the size and athletic ability to do it. The rest he can learn along the way.

Alex Scarborough: RB Damien Harris, Alabama
I'm tempted to go with Kyler Murray here because I believe he could win the job outright, but the QB position is just too hard to predict. So instead I'll turn to a position that does lend itself to making an impact early: running back. I'm going way down the list of the top players in the country to No. 36 Harris. The nation's No. 2 running back has a chance to make a significant impact from Day 1 with Alabama. T.J. Yeldon and Jalston Fowler off to the NFL, remember, and Kenyan Drake is coming off an injury, Altee Tenpenny has transferred out and Tyren Jones has a history of ending up in the doghouse. If Harris, a well-rounded back, can grasp the offense, he could be a dangerous change of pace to the bruising Derrick Henry.

Derek Tyson: DE Byron Cowart, Auburn
The Auburn defense was tied for 92nd in the FBS in sacks by getting to the quarterback only 21 times last season. That was a point of emphasis for new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and no player was bigger than the No. 1 defensive end and No. 1 player overall, Cowart. The five-star prospect was absolutely dominant during the Under Armour All-America game week of practice. At 6-3, 258 pounds, he is already big and athletic enough to see the field early on in his career at Auburn.
Across the SEC and the Power 5 conferences as a whole, there were several coaching changes made after national signing day.

Once a recruit has signed his letter of intent, he is bound to the school he signed with. It seems unfair to the recruits, who have built relationships with coaches over the past two years just to see them leave for another job as soon as the player signs.

Every high school football recruit, at one time or another, has been told by a coach, parent or mentor to "choose a school not a coach."

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Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.

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The trend to get guys on campus early is steady and strong. While it isn't for everyone, it can be very beneficial for players looking to get a leg up on the college learning curve. It can help youngsters adapt not only to the football side of things but the college side of things, which can go a long way toward a player's maturity -- on and off the field.

You have around six to eight months of college acclimation ... not too bad.

The SEC is just feeding off early enrollees, and it has become and intricate part to recruiting in this part of the country over the last few years. This year, the SEC welcomed 81 early enrollees, with Tennessee bringing in a league-high 10. Last year, the SEC landed 72 early enrollees, with the Vols leading the way with 14.

Back in January, colleague Derek Tyson listed five of the top early enrollees to watch this year. It's a good list, and here's a look at how each school in the SEC did with its early enrollees for 2015:

QB Blake Barnett
RB DeSherrius Flowers
S Ronnie Harrison
OL Brandon Kennedy
RB Bo Scarbrough
DL Jonathan Taylor*
S Deionte Thompson
OL Dallas Warmack

DT Daytrieon Dean
DT Hjalte Froholdt
TE Will Gragg
DT Jeremiah Ledbetter*
OG Jalen Merrick
OG Zach Rogers
QB Ty Storey

OL Tyler Carr
FB Chandler Cox
QB Tyler Queen
RB Jovon Robinson
OT Bailey Sharp
ATH Jason Smith*
DL Maurice Swain*

TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe
WR Kalif Jackson

S Johnathan Abram
LB Chuks Amaechi*
DE Michael Barnett
TE Jackson Harris
LB Jake Ganus (UAB transfer)
DE Jonathan Ledbetter
LB Natrez Patrick
S Jarvis Wilson

OL George Asafo-Adjei
TE C.J. Conrad
DE Kengera Daniel
TE Greg Hart (Nebraska transfer)
LB Jordan Jones
LB Courtney Love (Nebraska transfer)

LSU (4)
FB David Ducre III
QB Justin McMillan
CB Kevin Toliver II
TE Hanner Shipley

DE Johnathan Calvin*
WR Malik Dear
WR Donald Gray*
OT Martinas Rankin*
OL Michael Story
WR Deddrick Thomas

OL Malik Cuellar
OL Tanner Owen

DB Tony Bridges*
LB Terry Caldwell*
DL D.J. Jones*
QB Chad Kelly*
OL Javon Patterson

LB Ernest Hawkins*
LB Jalen Henry
DE Marquavius Lewis*
WR Christian Owens
LB Sherrod Pittman
CB Darin Smalls
WR Jerad Washington
DE Dexter Wideman

DL Andrew Butcher
QB Quinten Dormady
DB Stephen Griffin
OL Chance Hall
QB Jauan Jennings
OL Jack Jones
RB Alvin Kamara*
LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.
DL Kyle Phillips
DL Shy Tuttle

TE Jordan Davis
DB Justin Evans*
LB Claude George*
WR Christian Kirk
LB Richard Moore
WR Damion Ratley*
OL Keaton Sutherland

DE/LB Nehemiah Mitchell

*Junior college transfer

SEC morning links

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
1. Jim McElwain has made it a point to make his presence known at Florida. The new coach has fans excited with his renewed interest in offense, he just concluded his first recruiting cycle with a solid finish and now it appears he's helping to improve Florida's football facilities. It started with the announcement of finally constructing an indoor practice facility, which is expected to be ready by fall camp. Now, it appears that Florida's football facilities will undergo even more changes, athletic director Jeremy Foley said Monday. Foley didn't go into much detail, but he did mention trying to improve the locker room and the dorms. Amid criticism, Foley adamantly defended Florida's facilities back in December, but the announcement of the indoor practice facility and this new announcement sends a pretty clear message that he understands Florida is behind most of the SEC when it comes to facilities. It hasn't been a secret to other coaches around the country and it's good for Florida that Foley realizes changes need to be made.

2. One decision that hasn't been made is the one concerning where ESPN 300 linebacker Roquan Smith is going to attend college. The four-star prospect from Montezuma, Georiga, dramatically picked UCLA -- like having place cards and a bag full of gloves dramatic -- before almost immediately stating that he wasn't ready to make a final decision on where he wants to play college football. Of course, Georgia is a finalist and was the favorite going into national signing day, but Smith's high school coach, Larry Harold, says there's no timetable on when he'll make his actual final decision and sign. Harold said that there isn't any pressure on Smith to sign yet, and he really can take a ton of time if he wants, but this hammers home the point that if a high school prospect isn't ready to sign with a school, he shouldn't make any sort of public announcement. There's absolutely no point. You don't have to sign on national signing day, it's just the first day you can sign with a school. Take your time and really think, kids.

3. Did you know that there were 14 coordinator changes in the SEC this offseason? Eight of them were on offense, while six were on defense. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is even taking over the defensive responsibilities for the Commodores. If you want real perspective on this, only Alabama and Ole Miss didn't make any changes with their coordinators. A lot of new faces in new situations means some growing pains and some adjustments that will need to be made this spring before we can really get a feel for what these guys will do in their new positions. With that said, Athlon Sports decided to really dive into the coordinator carousel and picked four winners and losers, along with four "Wait and See" situations.

Around the SEC:
Tweet of the day (because Florida fans had to be tired of the whole CeCe Jefferson saga ... and Ron Swanson is everything):

The NFL invited more than 300 draft prospects to its scouting combine, and 69 of them hail from SEC schools.

Here is a breakdown of the SEC players who were invited to the event, which will be held in Indianapolis from Feb. 17-23:

Quarterbacks (2): Nick Marshall, Auburn; Blake Sims, Alabama.

Running backs (12): Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn; Mike Davis, South Carolina; Jalston Fowler, Alabama; Todd Gurley, Georgia; Braylon Heard, Kentucky; Kenny Hilliard, LSU; Matt Jones, Florida; Terrence Magee, LSU; Marcus Murphy, Missouri; Josh Robinson, Mississippi State; Trey Williams, Texas A&M; T.J. Yeldon, Alabama.

Wide receivers (6): Sammie Coates, Auburn; Chris Conley, Georgia; Amari Cooper, Alabama; Christion Jones, Alabama; DeAndrew White, Alabama.

Tight ends (3): Rory Anderson, South Carolina; Cameron Clear, Texas A&M; AJ Derby, Arkansas.

Offensive linemen (14): Trenton Brown, Florida; A.J. Cann, South Carolina; La'el Collins, LSU; Reese Dismukes, Auburn; Max Garcia, Florida; Chaz Green, Florida; Jarvis Harrison, Texas A&M; D.J. Humphries, Florida; Arie Kouandjio, Alabama; Darrian Miller, Kentucky; Mitch Morse, Missouri; Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M; Corey Robinson, South Carolina; Austin Shepherd, Alabama.

Defensive linemen (12): Angelo Blackson, Auburn; Trey Flowers, Arkansas; Dante Fowler Jr., Florida; Markus Golden, Missouri; Danielle Hunter, LSU; Leon Orr, Florida; Darius Philon, Arkansas; Shane Ray, Missouri; Preston Smith, Mississippi State; Za'Darius Smith, Kentucky; J.T. Surratt, South Carolina; Gabe Wright, Auburn.

Linebackers (10): Kwon Alexander, LSU; Neiron Ball, Florida; Trey DePriest, Alabama; Xzavier Dickson, Alabama; Bud Dupree, Kentucky; Amarlo Herrera, Georgia; A.J. Johnson, Tennessee; Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State; Martrell Spaight, Arkansas; Ramik Wilson, Georgia.

Defensive backs (8): Justin Coleman, Tennessee; Jalen Collins, LSU; Landon Collins, Alabama; Justin Cox, Mississippi State; Senquez Golson, Ole Miss; Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss; Damian Swann, Georgia; Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn.

Specialists (2): Kyle Christy, Florida; Josh Lambo, Texas A&M.

A few observations:
  • There are several notable SEC names who didn’t make the list. Among them: David Andrews (Georgia), Ben Beckwith (Mississippi State), Kaleb Eulls (Mississippi State), Connor Neighbors (LSU), Nick Perry (Alabama), Jermauria Rasco (LSU), Bud Sasser (Missouri) and C.J. Uzomah (Auburn).
  • The depth in this pool of SEC draft prospects is still impressive, but it might trail slightly behind recent SEC classes in high-end talent. The league has had double-digit first-round picks in four consecutive drafts, but it’s possible that the streak will end this year. ESPN Scouts Inc. lists seven SEC players (No. 3 Shane Ray, No. 4 Amari Cooper, No. 12 Dante Fowler, No. 14 Landon Collins, No. 23 Todd Gurley, No. 24 La’el Collins, and No. 32 Jalen Collins) among its top 32 prospects for 2015.
  • Alabama had 11 players invited. That’s not much of a surprise since the Crimson Tide won the conference and appeared in the College Football Playoff. But considering that Florida went 7-5, it’s a bit of a surprise that nine Gators received invitations.
  • The SEC’s talent along the line of scrimmage remains impressive. There are multiple future NFL stars on both sides of the line in this class.
  • Nick Marshall was invited as a quarterback? We’ll see about that. Although he starred at the position at Auburn, he expects to play defensive back in the pros. He’ll almost certainly work with the guys in the secondary in Indianapolis.
  • While not technically an SEC guy, former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is sure to be one of the most debated prospects on hand. He has every physical tool that an NFL team could want -- and he seemed to be on the verge of superstardom when he caught 59 passes for 883 yards and 12 TDs in 2013 at Mizzou -- but his dismissal last year is a huge red flag. He’d be a surefire first-round pick if not for the off-the-field questions.
  • Every SEC school except Vanderbilt had a player invited.

Instant-impact candidates at LSU

February, 9, 2015
Feb 9
BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU’s 2014 recruiting class was important, not just because of the significant talent infusion that it provided, but also because of the numerous holes that the Tigers needed to fill.

A half-dozen signees from ESPN’s No. 2-rated class -- including Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams, Malachi Dupre and Davon Godchaux -- became instant-impact freshmen, and most of the 23-man class contributed in some capacity.

LSU’s newest crop of signees does not face the same pressure to make an immediate impact since the Tigers weren’t hit by the NFL draft as hard as they had been in recent years. That said, there are still several players in this class who seem likely to play right away.

Here is an early attempt at identifying some of those players:

Arden Key: LSU loses both of its starting defensive ends in Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco, and the candidates to replace them are largely unproven. The Tigers also need to bolster their pass rush after totaling just 19 sacks last fall. Enter Key, who LSU coach Les Miles described as a “pass-rush specialist” and who defensive line coach Ed Orgeron compared to former Tigers star Barkevious Mingo.

Miles and Orgeron both predicted on signing day that Key, ESPN’s No. 24 overall prospect and No. 6 defensive end, will immediately help address the Tigers’ needs at end.

“It’s the school that he always wanted to come to and you could just tell when he walked into Tiger Stadium, he’s a cat, he’s a Tiger, we’re glad to have him,” Orgeron said. “He’s quick-twitch, long levers. We expect him to play next year and we expect him to work very hard this spring and this summer to be ready.”

Tyron Johnson: Wide receiver was not a huge position of need in this class, but of course LSU still wanted Johnson. ESPN rated the New Orleans native as the top player in Louisiana as well as the No. 30 overall prospect and No. 3 wideout.

[+] EnlargeTyron Johnson
Miller Safrit/ESPNLSU has a deep WR corps, but ESPN 300 receiver Tyron Johnson could break into the rotation right away.
The Tigers have a ton of young receivers, but junior Travin Dural is the only one who has proven himself as a consistent contributor. Johnson should have a shot at jumping into the positional rotation right away.

“His signing sends a message to the state and to the rest of our young guys that if you’re best, you need to come to LSU, because frankly, we'll play you,” Miles said.

Cornerbacks: LSU has playing time available in the secondary following the departures of safety Ronald Martin and cornerbacks Jalen Collins and Rashard Robinson. A newcomer might not jump straight into the starting lineup, but it seems likely that at least one of them will see regular action. The question is which member of the group -- one of the nation’s best collections of defensive back signees -- will make the cut?

Kevin Toliver II, ESPN’s No. 10 overall prospect and only five-star signee in LSU’s class, seems like the safest bet since he is already enrolled and will participate in spring practice. But Donte Jackson also has star potential, and Miles said that the speedster might contribute as a return man and on offense.

Don’t forget about Xavier Lewis and Jeremy Cutrer, either. Cutrer was committed to LSU in 2013 but had to spend the last two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College when he failed to qualify. He’s exceptionally athletic, which could help him become an immediate contributor if he makes the grade and enrolls at LSU later this year.

“It’s a standard of excellence we look for at that position group,” LSU recruiting coordinator Frank Wilson said. “The guys that we went after fit the bill. We feel that they can come in and contribute very early. Patrick Peterson charged us with that problem in 2010 with a young Tharold Simon, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, and we’ve tried to hold that standard in recruiting at that position group.”

Running backs: Also the Tigers’ running backs coach, Wilson filled a major need by adding three players to his position group. LSU did not have a scholarship fullback on the roster after losing Connor Neighbors and Melvin Jones, so getting the versatile David Ducre (another early enrollee) was a coup.

Wilson also lost veterans Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, leaving Fournette and Darrel Williams as his only scholarship tailbacks prior to signing day. In signing Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette, LSU added two of the state’s top prospects -- both of whom seem likely to help right away because of LSU’s tendency to rotate backs.

“We didn’t have any scholarship fullbacks, so we needed to address that need at that position group,” Wilson said. “And then we have two sophomores and bring in two freshmen [at tailback]. It gives us some leeway some next year where it’s not a position of demand in next year’s class.

“But we like where we’re at in that, only because it gives you quality depth and it’s not stacked. At times we’ve been as high as six, so four is a good number for us because the rotation becomes realistic.”

49ers add LSU WR coach to staff

February, 8, 2015
Feb 8
The San Francisco 49ers continue to fill out new coach Jim Tomsula’s staff, although they haven't announced any hirings yet. Rather, LSU’s sports information director announced via Twitter on Sunday afternoon that Tigers receivers coach Adam Henry was leaving Baton Rouge to claim a spot on the Niners staff.

Henry, who was at LSU the past three years, was with the Oakland Raiders five seasons before that -- two as an offensive quality control assistant and three as the tight ends coach.

At LSU, Henry coached the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and had Zach Miller and Kevin Boss with the Raiders.

With the Niners, Henry should share some coaching duties with Ronald Curry, an offensive assistant since 2013 who was blocked by the team from talking with the Buffalo Bills and was also sought after by Florida to coach the Gators' receivers.

As a player, Henry was a receiver at McNeese State and was on the New Orleans Saints' practice squad in 1995.

One player Henry might not have to worry about is free agent receiver Michael Crabtree, who recently removed any mention of the 49ers from his Twitter bio.

Ten SEC teams are ranked in the top 25 of the ESPN 2015 Preseason Football Power Index.

National signing day came and went, unless you're one of those highly regarded recruits who can't seem to make up your mind.

College football's rich continued to get richer, as three of the four teams that played in the inaugural College Football Playoff landed top-10 recruiting classes. Alabama signed the No. 1 class in the country, while Florida State's was No. 2 and Ohio State's was No. 6. Oregon had the No. 15 recruiting class.

With national signing day behind us, and most of the coaching moves complete, it's the perfect time for the second edition of the 2015 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

Ohio State is the new No. 1 (we heard you loud and clear, Buckeyes fans), and Alabama now joins OSU, TCU and USC in the top four.

Say goodbye to Utah, Oklahoma State and Minnesota. Say hello to Texas, Missouri and Louisville.

Here's the rest of the 2015 Way-Too-Early Top 25:

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

2014 record: 14-1, 8-0 Big Ten

Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams

Key personnel losses: WR Devin Smith, DT Michael Bennett, DE Steve Miller, MLB Curtis Grant, CB Doran Grant

(Read full post)


ESPN senior analytics specialist Alok Pattani runs down the top spots in the 2015 preseason Football Power Index.


John Chavis Suing Texas A&M, LSU
ESPN.com SEC reporter Sam Khan Jr. reports the latest on Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis, who has sued both LSU and Texas A&M over a buyout he claims he doesn't owe.