College Football’s Top 15 Players To Watch In 2012BREAKING NEWS, NCAAF, News Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
Greetings from the not-so-much college football capital of the world, Philadelphia Pa. When I compiled this list, it wasn’t so much the top 15 talented players in America. A lot of people can read a paper and say that. I think I took it a step further and gave you my 15 players who are difference makers. I am sure you have your own, and I would be interested to see them in the comments section of Gcobb.com or email me direct if you read this in your paper at email@example.com We are about two weeks away from kickoff. Below are 15 players I feel you will hear a lot about over the next 120 days. Again, I will look back in January and self evaluate. I promise you no one puts as much effort and thought into giving you something to enjoy and educate yourself at the same time. Thanks to the comments these articles seem to bring (both good and bad) I love hearing great article but I also love the debate some of them bring. I am passionate about this game but never let personal feelings get in the way of objectivity. I will try each week to bring you something that will stir up thought and not just produce numbers on what you just witnessed. I’ll bring it from a deeper perspective and together we can break down these games all year long. So on to the list of my top 15 players to watch in 2012-2013.
15) Rex Burkhead Nebraska ( 5’11 210 Sr ) Burkhead has established himself as one of the nation’s top running backs. He has been selected as a preseason 1st team all-BIG 10 and 2nd team All-American. This year he could join a select group in being named to the Academic All-American team two years in a row. He reminds me of an old school back like John Riggins (Washington Redskins) or Joe Morris (New York Giants). He amassed 1,357 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior and had seven 100-yard games. A true workhorse, I expect similar numbers in his senior season.
14) Geno Smith West Virginia ( 6’3 215 Sr ) Smith intrigues me. I have very dear friends that are WVU alum and if ever a school had the best die-hard fans, the Mountaineers would be right at the top. He has good size and a quarterback frame. He is a tremendous athlete and has an extremely quick release. He is accurate on both short, medium, and deep balls. The thing I watched closely is that he is a pass-first run-second guy, which I was pleasantly surprised to see. He threw for 4,385 yards, 65.8% completion % and 31 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Looking beyond this year, if I had concerns about his NFL future he rarely takes a snap under center, threw off his back foot a lot on the tape I watched and also seems to lock in one his primary receiver leaving his check downs wide open. He forces the ball a bit too much. He can get away with it more now, but at the next level many of his passes would turn into picks. He will be an exciting player to watch as West Virginia enters the big 12 this year.
13) Marcus Lattimore South Carolina (6’1 232 Jr ) Lattimore has an explosive freshman season in 2010 and immediately showed up on his SEC opponents radar. He rushed for 1,197 yards 17 td’s 4.8 avg while also pulling in 29 catches for 412 yards and another touchdown. His sophomore season started the same. Through just seven games he had 813 yards rushing 5.2 avg and was among the nations leaders in rushing. In the eighth game, he tore ligaments in his knee while hustling downfield to block for a receiver. I think the coaching staff will watch him closely as the season starts. His carries may be somewhat limited through the first three or four games. But as he gets his game legs underneath him assuming he avoids injury he should prove to be one of the country’s best running backs. He is considered a north-south runner, but is surprisingly shifty inside the hash marks. Looking forward I think he has demonstrated his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield making him an every down back at the next level and a first round pick in next years draft.
12) Logan Thomas Virginia Tech (6’6 265 Jr ) Here is a fact: Thomas was not even recruited as a quarterback. He was the number one tight end in America out of high school coming to Blacksburg. He is every bit the 6’6 265 he is listed to be. He is quick for his size and has a nice high release of the football. When I watched tape on him his mechanics, unlike Geno Smith’s were flawless. He transferred his weight from his plant foot to his front foot better then most other quarterbacks I reviewed. He has a high quick compact release and has a rocket for an arm. What I noticed on the negative side was that when the pocket collapses he holds onto the ball to long. Not a terrible thing I didn’t see him looking down field for a receiver to break a route or even a check down but rather he was looking for running lanes. I think that the offense needs to just use him more. It’s a run first then zone read with an occasional deep pass. I don’t think even the sharpest NFL mind knows what his true upside is. Perhaps he should consider a move to TE at the next level? Just a thought.
11) EJ Manuel Florida State ( 6’5 238 Sr ) Manuel came to Florida State with a lot of hype. In his first two seasons he played sparingly behind Christian Ponder. He finally had his chance to somewhat mixed reviews in 2011. He threw for 2,817 yards and 18 touchdowns with eight interceptions He also ran for 411 yards and a score. A few former NFL players that I speak to say he is a fascinating prospect with every physical tool needed to be a star at the next level. He is big, strong, mobile and has a rocket for an arm. It’s the thinking on the fly that needs work. I went back and watched almost all of his games from 2011. It seems like he dominated the easier teams but when the schedule got tough against teams like Oklahoma and Florida Manuel struggled. I saw a lot of wide open receivers he missed. When their was pressure instead of hanging in the pocket he would tuck the ball and run too much. It seemed like he wasn’t picking up some easy reads on defensive stunts and he didn’t have that downfield vision. What you have with EJ is a puzzle with all of the pieces. Question is will they all come together in 2012 ?
10) Monte Ball Wisconsin ( 5’11 210 Jr ) Monte Ball is another NFL type running back that Wisconsin continues to produce. Unlike many of his other Doak Walker/Heisman Trophy candidate finalists, Ball isn’t extremely gifted athletically but has an incredible work ethic. He is a hard straight up runner who has the ability to make the first man miss or just run him over. Detractors say he is a product of his huge offensive line. I couldn’t disagree more. Ball ran for 1,932 yards and 33 touchdowns last year while catching 24 passes for 306 yards and another six touchdowns all while finishing 4th in the Heisman voting. He is extremely durable and can be a three down back in the NFL due to his pass catching ability. I am sure NFL scouts won’t love his lack of break away speed or that he has taken a lot of punishment in college. He may finish this year with 750 career carries. The one question is can he get better or has he already reached peak potential running behind that NFL sized offensive line? He is for sure an early round pick next year. Most likely 2nd.
9) Tyler Wilson Arkansas ( 6’2 220 Sr ) Wilson had big shoes to fill entering the 2011 season as he took the torch from the departed Ryan Mallet. Wilson delivered. The junior threw for 3,638 yards and 24td’s/6int while leading the Razorbacks to an 11-2 season. He has a strong arm and is accurate in all three phases downfield ( short medium deep ) I haven’t heard much about his running ability but on all of the tape I watched the guy can run a bit. I don’t think like other quarterbacks he is asked to quite often. Unlike an EJ Manuel he will stay in the pocket and read through all of his progressions. He also separates himself from other quarterbacks because I think he does an excellent job at reading defenses. He is a tough kid who will put his helmet down if necessary to get a yard and has great leadership skills. I did notice like Geno Smith he will rely on his arm and throw off his back foot too much. That won’t fly on Sundays. I want to see him play well against the LSU’s and Alabama’s this year. He had his toughest challenges against these top notch defenses. As much as I like Matt Barkley I think Wilson’s upside may be just a bit better. Watch this kid I really like him.
8) Landry Jones Oklahoma ( 6’4 229 Sr ) I watched a ton of tape on this kid. Never have I seen such negative things said about a player that has been so productive. Many say it was a must that he come back for his senior season if he wanted to solidify a 1st or 2nd round pick. I don’t see how throwing for 12,379 yards and 93 touchdowns while going 3-0 in Bowl Games such a bad thing is. And don’t give me Ty Detmer or David Carr as comparisons this guy plays against top notch competition week in and week out. I know what the scouts are saying about his long release but he is the most accurate passer in his class. I watch him read and dissect defenses on a weekly basis. If anything what he needs to control is relying on his accuracy forcing the ball at times trying to make the impossible pass. Sometimes your strengths are your weaknesses and his confidence in his ability to throw into coverage has been his biggest criticism. I think he makes the smart decision most of the time and I view him as a poor man’s Tom Brady which is a complement. As I predicted last year with Ryan Tannehill at the same time, Jones will have a huge year. I don’t listen to what some say I make my own conclusions.
7) Denard Robinson Michigan (6’0 197 Sr ) As a Michigan fan I can still be objective about Denard. I think the only chance he has to play at the next level is at wide out. I think he can and will make that adjustment. His numbers 2173 yards 20 td’s 15 ints don’t compare passing wise to others at his position. But Robinson has rushed for over 2,800 yards and 30td’s the last two seasons which is far and away at the top of the class. He had 47 rushes for over 10 yards while completing 11 passes for over 40 yards. He has all the leadership qualities and intangibles to have a huge season. What I need to see is him make the big throw at a critical stage. He will stand in the pocket and take a hit to make that throw. Robinson has deceptively above average arm strength and throws accurate while on the run. Again with many of these guys he tends to throw off his back foot and looks like a ¾ arm delivery that causes some balls to come out low. His height also prevents him sometimes from seeing downfield. Great College player but will be a scat player in NFL.
6) Matt Barkley USC ( 6’2 220 Sr ) Barkley shocked the football world when he decided to return for another year leaving the NFL and millions of dollars behind. But this was no Jake Locker mistake. If you remember Locker most likely would have been the 1st pick in the draft a few years back before the collective bargaining agreement set a rookie wage scale. Locker returned to Washington and had a less then stellar season and in turn cost himself around $35 million. Now with the set scale it doesn’t affect the player as much. I applaud what Barkley did choosing one more year of college football and to finish the job they started at the end of last year when you could make an argument that they were playing like a number one team. Let me put that to bed I think Alabama would have beat them but its true we will never know. I like Barkley. Like him in college and think I will like him in the NFL. He is a traditional pocket passer like Brady but throws exceptionally well on the run like Aaron Rogers. He is not to be put in the same class yet but either were Brady and Rogers in their own class leaving college. Barkley is very calm in the pocket under pressure and can read and check down pre snap better then any D-1 quarterback. He started as a freshman and has played against very tough competition his entire career. He is a leader with a very high football IQ. Look for Barkley to have a monster season and be a top 5 pick in next years draft.
5) Sammy Watkins Clemson ( 6’1 200 So ) Not the start he had in mind being suspended for the first two games of the year,but Watkins is still one of the most dynamic players to come along in many years. He would have been one of the first few receivers drafted if he was eligible to come out after his freshman year which means he is only going to get better. As great as his freshman numbers were 82 receptions with 1,219 yards 12 td’s and that doesn’t describe the impact he can have on a game. I had him as my preseason Heisman winner as a Freshman last year. This year missing the first two games may hurt him again. Watkins is quick and elusive and has more then adequate deep speed. He is a superior route runner with instincts for getting open and making plays you cannot teach. He is not even eligible to come out until the end of the 2013-2014 season so Clemson will have him for two more years. If he keeps improving he has number one over all pick talent. This kid is as good as anyone out there as a true sophomore.
4) Jadeveon Clowney South Carolina ( 6’6 260 So ) As most publications equate impact players with the offensive side of the ball, few players will have an impact on a game like this 6’6 260 pound defensive end. I will say this and stand by it. He may be the best overall football player in the NFL stacked talent rich SEC conference. His eight sacks and five forced fumbles landed him SEC Defensive Freshman of the Year honors and a spot on the All American Freshman team. The only weakness I can see from watching him is just the mental grasp of the game at this level. But that will come. By the end of this year, everyone will know his name. He will be the best defensive football player in the country.
3) Aaron Murray Georgia ( 6’1 211 Jr ) If I have learned one thing you do your own research, watch a lot of tape and come to your own conclusions. The immediate knock on Murray is he is only 6’1. A legitimate concern. But this kid has played in a pro style offense in the toughest conference in the country for two years now. And guess what ? He Is only going to get better. I do think he needs to work on his accuracy he completed only 59% of his passes last year but I like what I see on tape. Murray threw for 3,149 yards and 35td’s 14 int in 2011. What I saw watching tape he has the ability to move around in the pocket to overcome not being the quarterback ideal height. He remains calm under pressure and creates sight lines to extend the play and get the ball downfield. I like his quick release he snaps the ball and doesn’t come from over the top. His footwork is sharp and I noticed he can throw on the run rolling to either side. What he has to do is make wiser choices when doing so and I think that comes with maturity. It’s a matter of choice why he made my top 15. Most have Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray ahead of Murray and I can see why. Bray has more physical skills but makes just too many mental mistakes. And I think Murray is the better leader. I believe Murray has a breakout year and moves himself into a top 10 selection in next year’s draft.
2) Ryan Swope Texas A&M (6’1 206 Sr ) I am going to take a lot of heat for this selection. Do I think that Swope is one of the 15 most talented players in America? Perhaps not, but I really like how this kid brings it 100% on every play. He wasn’t even the number one target on his team until this year but I watched a lot of Aggie football last year and want him on my team. He reminds me a lot of Wes Welker and I think he will have a productive NFL career. Swope is fearless across the middle. Critics will say his numbers will take a hit now that Ryan Tannehill and number one receiver Jeff Fuller have departed for the NFL. Last year with Fuller injured a lot Swope stepped in and caught 89 passes for 1207 yards and 11td’s. He has deceptive speed and can turn a screen into a 60 yard touchdown. From studying him even harder I think he surprised a lot of defensive backs on how fast he got in and out of his breaks. If you watch a lot of Green Bay Packer games think Jordy Nelson. I think he moves up to the second round in next years draft and will even be starting somewhere on Sundays in 2013. My favorite and most underrated player in the college ranks.
1) De’Anthony Thomas Oregon ( 5’10 160 So ) I will say this now. There are a lot of incredible talents in the college game. Some will have much more productive NFL careers. But when you break down all the numbers, watch all the tape and ponder the upside, this guy finished at the top of my list. Even the intermediate college fan probably doesn’t know much about this kid. That is all about to change this year. He was sitting behind an All-American back in LaMichael James last year, but he made the most out of every touch. Thomas touched the ball 101 times in 2011 and scored 16 times. He averaged 12 yards every time he touched the football. Ducks coach Chip Kelly has renamed his position calling him the Taser. He will line up at running back, receiver and tight end. He will also return punts and kicks. His 2235 all purpose yards made him Co-Pac 12 Freshman of the year. Thomas can score from anywhere on the field. He averaged over 27 yards per kick return and 17 yards per punt return. He had been on my radar but I didn’t see another back with as much explosiveness and elusiveness anywhere. He only averaged 10 touches per game last year. That will increase 50-80% and if it does he is my dark horse candidate for the Heisman trophy; A tough award for him to win for a few reasons, playing out west and being a sophomore. He makes Oregon a very dangerous team. The November 3rd matchup at USC is my game of the year. If you are a fan of the game start watching this guy closely. I saw every one of his 101 touches he is a special talent.
A little over two weeks away and let the debates begin. Make a difference today and pay it forward.. Donate to a local animal shelter for the price of going to a movie you can change some innocent creature’s life. See you next week…..
Short URL: http://gcobb.com/?p=32373