Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Prospects in real time
By Kevin Weidl
With the start of the 2013 college football season approaching, I sat down to map out a rough draft of the games I will scout this fall. Being able to get a look at prospects in person is a vital part of the process and helps reinforce what I see off the coaches' copy tape. Being at games helps me from many perspectives. I can see body types, a players' demeanor and approach to the game, how players interact with teammates -- which are leadership and intangible characteristics -- and prospects' body language, especially when they experience adversity. These are things that television and coaches' tape don’t always show.
Because I work out of Charlotte, N.C., the schedule is ACC- and SEC-heavy and includes 21 different programs. In chronological order, these are the five games I am most anticipating in terms of prospects and matchups. My tentative schedule follows.
As always, draft-eligible non-seniors are denoted with an asterisk.
Opening weekend: Thursday, Aug. 29 -- North Carolina at South Carolina
Not a bad start. I get to see the No. 1 prospect on our board in South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney*.
I’ve seen Clowney play live six times in the past two years, and it has been scary to watch him progress toward his potential as he has matured. The 6-foot-6 and 260-pound DE has the length, quickness, flexibility and closing burst as a pass-rusher and he has flashed the capability to take over games, such as the Georgia game in 2012, at times.
The area where I will be looking for improvement in Clowney’s game is his development with the strength in his lower half, particularly anchoring against the run.
Clowney won’t be the only Gamecock defensive lineman I'll have my eye on. After notching five sacks last year, fellow DE Chaz Sutton, an underrated pass-rusher, steps into a starting role this year. Sutton lacks ideal size at 6-3, 236 pounds, and will likely fit as a 3-4 OLB at the NFL level. Because of this, I will be watching his athleticism in space and looking to see whether he has added bulk and core strength setting the edge against the run.
Clowney and Sutton will provide the toughest test North Carolina OT James Hurst (6-6, 309) will see all season. Hurst’s ability to protect the edge against these two will provide an immediate gauge where Hurst stacks up in the 2014 offensive tackle class.
North Carolina QB Bryn Renner (6-2, 219) has also created some buzz this offseason. The senior quarterback holds a midround grade but will have a great opportunity to gain momentum against one of the better SEC defenses in the national spotlight. Tar Heels junior TE Eric Ebron* will provide a security blanket for Renner. At 6-4 and 238 pounds, Ebron fits as a move tight end and is one of the bigger weapons in the passing game for his position.
Opening weekend: Saturday, Aug. 31 -- Chik-fil-A Kickoff Classic (Atlanta) -- Virginia Tech vs. Alabama
This is game is headlined by two notable quarterbacks in Alabama's AJ McCarron and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas along with our No. 1 offensive tackle prospect, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio. The teams will also field an abundance of defensive prospects.
McCarron has exceptional leadership and intangibles. He also has touch and anticipation as a passer, but he lacks prototypical arm talent. I will be monitoring whether he has improved his arm strength and deep-ball accuracy, which is one of his bigger weaknesses on tape.
In 2013, can Hokies QB Logan Thomas improve upon his disappointing 2012?
As for Thomas, he is coming off a tough 2012 campaign. He has a lot of work to do particularly with footwork, mechanics and accuracy. However, there are several variables that need to be considered with his evaluation such as a lack of variety with scheme, poor offensive line play and critical drops from his perimeter receivers last year.
This offseason, the Hokies hired Scot Loeffler as its new offensive coordinator. Loeffler has an extensive collegiate background grooming quarterbacks including Tom Brady, Brian Griese, Chad Henne and Drew Henson. It will be interesting to see the development Loeffler can make with Thomas, who, at 6-5 and 258 pounds, is built for the NFL and has an enormous ceiling and elite physical skill set to work with.
This is a critical year for Thomas, and he has a chance to swing momentum with a strong performance against an Alabama defense that is loaded with future NFL talent headlined by ILB C.J. Mosley, DE Adrian Hubbard* and safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix*. Lack of playmakers around Thomas has stacked the odds against him in pulling off the upset. But if he can play well enough to keep the Hokies competitive, it will go a long way toward helping scouts put his inconsistencies from last year in the back of their minds.
Tajh Boyd and the Clemson Tigers have a score to settle with Florida State.
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd will look for revenge after falling short against the Tigers' Atlantic Division rival last year. Boyd will face a tough challenge against an athletic Seminoles defense headlined by junior DT Timmy Jernigan* along with a pair of rangy linebackers in Christian Jones and Telvin Smith. Jones is the household name, but I’m interested to see how Smith performs this year while stepping into a full-time starting role after splitting time with Vince Williams in 2012.
One of the bigger individual matchups will take place on the perimeter. Undersized S/CB Lamarcus Joyner returned for his senior year to show scouts his versatility, as he is expected to bump outside to cornerback after lining up at safety his first three seasons. NFL evaluators will get a strong gauge on Joyner’s cover skills when he faces off with explosive (class) WR Sammy Watkins*, who will be looking to rebound after exploding onto the scene in 2011, then failing to meet expectations as a sophomore.
It’s hard to argue that no programs have pumped out more NFL talent recently than these two. In the past five years, these SEC powerhouses have accounted for 54 players drafted, including 16 first-round picks. The 2014 draft should be no different. I would need about four more sets of eyes to get a thorough look at all the prospects who will be suiting up that day.
I will be paying close attention to the trenches, where these two teams have had wars the past few seasons. This year's battle will be headlined by prospects such as Alabama’s Kouadjio, Hubbard, Steen, and Stinson along with LSU DTs Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson.
It will also be interesting to see whether LSU QB Zach Mettenberger can build off momentum and finish the job after enjoying one of his better games in a last-minute loss to the Crimson Tide last year.
This will be a showcase of defensive linemen. In addition to South Carolina’s front line, the Gators will present a disruptive front led by DE Dominique Easley. Also, I will be keeping an eye on DE Ronald Powell, who returns after sitting out the 2012 season with a knee injury, as well as DE Dante Fowler, who is not draft-eligible in 2014 but is primed to have a breakout 2013 season.
Thursday, Aug. 29: North Carolina at South Carolina
Saturday, Aug. 31: Virginia Tech vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
Saturday, September 14: Vanderbilt at South Carolina
Thursday, September 19: Clemson at NC State
Saturday, September 21: Pitt at Duke
Thursday, September 26: Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech
Saturday, September 28: LSU at Georgia
Saturday, Oct. 5: Georgia at Tennessee
Thursday, Oct. 17: Miami at North Carolina
Saturday, Oct. 19: Florida State at Clemson
Saturday, Oct. 26: Boston College at North Carolina
Saturday, Nov. 3: Mississippi State at South Carolina
Saturday, Nov. 9: LSU at Alabama
Saturday, Nov. 16: Florida at South Carolina
Saturday, Nov. 23: Vanderbilt at Tennessee
Friday, Nov. 29: Miami at Pitt
Saturday, Dec. 7: ACC championship