Thursday, July 27, 2006

The 323 - Preseason All Americans

Quarterback: Brady Quinn, Sr. Notre Dame

While I have been accused of having a flair for the dramatic (perhaps evidenced by my preseason ranking of Auburn #1), this selection is as pedstrian as they come. By no means do I intend to denigrate Mr. Quinn with this statement. If anything, it should be viewed as laudatory, serving notice that he is so far superior to all other quarterbacks in the nation so as to remove all doubt as to the 1st team all America selection. Brady Quinn is a prototypical NFL quarterback. He has the size to stand in the pocket, the arm to make every throw, and the intelligence to know where, and perhaps more importantly when, to deliver the football. With two years directing an NFL style offense under the tutelage of Charlie Weis, we may be looking at the most NFL ready college quarterback since Peyton Manning.

NFL Comparison - Jim Kelly

Runner Up - Drew Stanton, Sr. Michigan State

Stanton is my favorite college QB. His toughness, mobility, and improvisation reminds me of Matt Hasselbeck. He thrives against the best competition, and revels in carrying his team.

Running Back: Adrien Peterson, Jr. Oklahoma

Another essential position, another obvious selection. To be perfectly blunt, Peterson is the most natural rusher I have ever seen. Every run of his is a work of art, whether it's a short burst up the middle, or Oklahoma's patented stretch sweep which he runs better than anyone this side of Larry Johnson. Peterson is so fluid on the field, and plays the game so effortlessly that even a football novice would recognize his greatness almost immediately. Sure Peterson has the size and the speed, but more importantly he has a seemingly preternatural understanding of the running back position. Not only does Peterson have the vision and patience to wait for a play to develop, but he has the instincts to delay his cut or slightly alter his route to the hole to give his blockers better angles on defenders. Despite his tremendous size (6'2'') and powerful build (220 lbs.), Peterson has the ability to never get hit squarely by a defender and avoid most of the punishment that shortens the careers of tall backs (see George, Eddie; Campbell, Earl). Should he enter the NFL draft after this season, he would most likely be the number one pick overall.

NFL Comparison - Eric Dickerson

Runner Up - Garrette Wolfe, Sr. Northern Illinois

With all due respect to the more talented backs like Marshawn Lynch, Steve Slaton, and Michael Bush, I have to give some love to the MAC and it's best (and perhaps littlest) player. Wolfe is a Warrick Dunn clone, though he does not catch as many passes as the Seminole great.

Wide Receivers: Dwayne Jarrett, Jr. USC; Jeff Samardzjia, Sr. Notre Dame

Assuming he is academically eligible to play, Jarrett might be the best overall offensvie player in the country not named Peterson. Jarrett is a massive target (6'5'') and as physical a receiver as there is in the country. His stature and production beg comparisons to former USC receiver Mike Williams, although Jarrett's production and work ethic in his two seasons for the men of Troy indicate that he is a far better NFL prospect. Though he has had some off the field issues this offseason, between the lines Jarrett is everything a coach could want and plays hard on every down (as evidenced by his excellence as a downfield blocker). It will be interesting to see how Jarrett performs without his partner in crime Matt Leinart, although he and alter-ego Steve Smith could make me look decent at QB.

NFL Comparison - Michael Irvine

Samardzjia is another huge target (6'5'', 220 lbs.) who is coming off a wildly productive 2005 season. Unlike Jarrett, Samardzjia was resigned to the bench for his first two seasons in South Bend before exploding as a junior. As such, he is not nearly as polished as Jarrett when it comes to route running and reading defensive backs. However, Samardzjia is just as physical going after the ball as Jarrett is, and may possess the best hands in all of college football. Because he lacks elite speed, Samardzjia is at his best against zone defenses and may open his NFL career as a slot reciever. However, the more he plays the more he will learn to use his size against smaller defensive backs in man coverage and truly become a complete reciever.

NFL Comparison - Cris Carter

Runner Up - Calvin Johnson, Jr. Georgia Tech

A better blend of size (6'4'', 235 lbs.) and speed (4.4) than either Jarrett or Samardzjia, Johnson just misses because he has not produced as consistently as either. That said, physically he projects as the best NFL prospect, although his inconsistency begs the question of whether he is more Terrell Owens, or JJ Stokes.

Tight End: Joe Newton, Sr. Oregon State

While Juniors Zach Miller (Arizona State) and Greg Olsen (Miami) get most of the attention, it is Newton who is the most complete TE in the nation. Newton was outstanding as a Sophomore catching 56 balls for 687 yards and 7 touchdowns, but seems to get lost in the shufle of promising tight ends because he missed all of last season with a leg injury. Newton is massive at 6'7'' and 260 lbs. He does not have great speed, but he catches everything thrown his way and is a better blocker than most tackles. Newton will never put up eye popping combine numbers like Vernon Davis or Tony Gonzalez, but he is the type of player that winning teams rely on.

NFL Comparison - Dave Casper

Runner up - Brian Leonard, Sr. Rutgers

Technically Leonard is a fullback, but he deserves mention on this all America team. A rugged runner with deceptive speed, Leonard contributes in every aspect of the game (blocking, running, and catching). He executes screen passes as well as anyong since Keith Byars.

Tackles: Joe Thomas, Sr. Wisconsin; Levi Jones, Sr. Penn State

Thomas is a prototypical left tackle with his 6'8'' frame, and long arms to keep defensive lineman away from his body. He is a shade over 300 pounds, but is not really an overpowering run blocker in the mold of an Anthony Munoz. Thomas has outstanding balance and footwork which helps him excel in pass protection, the most important trait for the man guarding the quarterback's blind side. A former defensive lineman, Thomas knows all the defensive techniques and pass rush moves, and he has the instincts to anticipate counter moves and defensive line stunts. Joe Thomas projects as a long term left tackle in the NFL.

NFL Comparison - Gary Zimmerman

Whereas Joe Thomas should be described as more of a technician, Levi Jones in an old school road paver at left tackle. At 6'5'' 330 lbs., Jones is one of the biggest and most powerful lineman in America. While he lacks Thomas' elite pass protection skills, Jones is a true mauler in the running game who can hold his own against the best pass rushers in the nation. As the lone returning starter along the offensive line, Jones will be asked to carry the load for the Nittany Lions this season. Jones projects as a capable left tackle in the NFL, though his size and lack of ideal footwork may cause him to struggle against the new bread of NFL speed rushing ends/linebackers. I would not be suprised to see Jones shift to the right tackle spot where he can used his power and nastiness to dominate in the running game.

NFL Comparison - Jon Runyan

Runner Up - Justin Blalock, Sr. Texas

Blalock is a bit overrated in my opinion, but still remains one of the top lineman in the nation. He is big and strong, but struggles in space like almost all recent Texas o-lineman (see Davis, Leonard; Williams, Mike). Blalock will most likely have to play guard in the NFL but projects similar to former Longhorn Leonard Davis.

Guards: Josh Beekman, Sr. Boston College; Mike Jones, Sr. Iowa

Like all BC lineman, Beekman is a poweful, nasty, and smart blocker. While many believe his permanent position is center, I love Beekman as a long term left guard in the NFL. While Beekman is an outstanding run blocker, what makes him a top flight prospect are his left tackle caliber pass protection skills. At 325 lbs., Beekman is strong enough to stalemate even the most powerful defensive tackles, and he possesses uncanny balance and footwork for a guard.

NFL Comparison - Chris Snee

Jones is not quite as powerful as Beekman (who is), but at 308 lbs. he is certainly no slouch. Jones' best attribute is his intelligence, as he lined up at both tackle spots for the Hawkeyes last season before settling at guard. While it is possible that Jones could play tackle in the NFL, he should be a dominant guard, capable of playing in any system. Look for Jones to start from day 1 in the NFL, as he has been the beneficiary of four years of coaching from one of the best offensive line coaches on the planet in Iowa head man Kirk Ferentz.

NFL Comparison - Mike Wahle

Runner Up - Ken Quarterman, Sr. Louisville

My favorite O-Lineman in the nation, Qarterman is dominant inside at 6'5'' and 336 lbs. Easily the best straight ahead run blocker in the nation, Quarterman projects as an NFL right guard in the mold of former Viking David Dixon.

Center: Dan Mozes, Sr. West Virginia

While there are no truly dominant centers in America this season, Mozes gets the nod based on his consistency and leadership. Mozes has been a four year starter for the mountaineers, and is excellent in space taking on quicker linebackers. At only 290 lbs. Mozes can struggle at times with more powerful defenders. While he has played some guard for Rich Rodriguez in the past, Mozes is much more suited for the center position where he can sift through at the point of attack and take on scraping linebackers.

NFL Comparison - Mark Stepnoski

Runner Up - Ryan Kalil, Sr. USC

Another veteran leader, Kalil is a technically sound center who does not possess incredible natural power or explosion. However, he has bulked up to 285 lbs. and his coaches love his wortk ethic and intelligence. He looks like a late round pick who could find himself as an NFL starter by the end of his rookie season. His profile fits that of a Dan Koppen type.

Defensive Ends: Gaines Adams, Sr. Clemson; Adam Carriker, Sr. Nebraska

At 6'3'' and 265 lbs. Adams is the prototypical college "tweener". Lucky for him, he plays on a loaded Clemson front seven, which allows the coaching staff to move him between end and linebacker (technically called the "bandit" position). Adams is a pure disrupter, posting 55 tackles and 9.5 sacks last season. His 15 tackles for a loss and 29 quarterback pressures in 2005 evidence his adept ability to play on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. Because of his smallish frame and outstanding speed, Adams projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL. Though he will need to learn to play more consistently in pass coverage, there is little doubt that he has the speed, quickness, and agility to develope into a top flight curl-flat defender.

NFL Comparison - Roosevelt Colvin

Though not blessed with the pure talent of Adams, Carriker is a far more complete defensive end, and one of the best all around defensive players in the nation. Not only is Carriker one of the best pass rushers in the Big 12 (9.5 sacks in 2005), but he is also stout against the run. Built like an offensive tackle, Carriker stands 6'6'' and 295 lbs. He is exceptional at leveraging his body and maintaining the outside by keeping offensive lineman off of him, making it almost impossible to run sweep plays to his side. Carriker owns a non-stop motor, which is typical of Nebraska defensive lineman. He projects as a dominant defensive end in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 system.

NFL Comparison - Trevor Pryce

Runner Up - Quentin Moses, Sr. Georgia

The 6'4'' 250 lbs. Moses is the best pure pass rusher in the nation. However, his slight frame and tendency to get upfield make him somewhat of a liability against the run. He will probably be chosen too high in the NFL draft as he projects as another in the long line of one dimensional, speed rushing defensive ends such as Jevon Kearse, and Leonard Little.

Defensive Tackles: Quinn Pitcock, Sr. Ohio State; Brandon Mebane, Sr. California

Pitcock is not your typical Ohio State tackle. He doesn't rack up huge numbers like Ryan Pickett, or Dan Wilkinson, but he is every bit as valuable. In 2005 Pitcock consistently ate up 2 or even 3 blockers, allowing the Buckeyes' star studded linebacking corpse to run around and make plays. With AJ Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Anthony Schlegl all playing in the NFL, it would not be suprising to see Jim Tressel ask Pitcock to make more plays in the backfield (something he is more than capable of doing). At 6'3'' and 300 lbs., Pitcock is a true run stuffing tackle. He has adequate speed to play the 3-4 end in the NFL, but projects as more of a 1 technique tackle in a 4-3 defense.

NFL Comparison - Rod Coleman

Though he is bigger than Pitcock, Mebane is a protoype 3 technique, pentrating tackle. At 6'3'' and 306 lbs. with tremendous quickness, Mebane is built like a 3-4 defensive end. His 7 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2005 only serve to further emphasize Mebane's ability to wreak havoc in the opposing backfield. With a more talented California defense surrounding him in 2006, Mebane should be able to put up much more dominant numbers and establish himself as the premier pass rushing tackle in the country.

NFL Comparison - Kevin Williams

Runner Up - Jay Alford, Sr. Penn State

While I love his game, Alford just misses because of his slight size (only 6'2'', 280 lbs.). Alford is probably quicker than any other tackle in the country, and is an excellent pass rusher. Unless he makes the move to defensive end in the NFL, he projects as a situational pass rusher in the mold of Jarvis Green. Although the same thing was said about another 6'2'' 280 lbs. tackle coming out of college......John Randle.

Middle Linebacker: Patrick Willis, Sr. Mississippi

Willis flies under the radar since he plays for Ole' Miss., but he has proven to be one the best players in the entire SEC. Willis lacks elite speed and is a bit undersized for a middle linebacker at 6'2'' and 230 lbs. Still, he is a tackling machine and a ferocious hitter. Willis is outstanding at reading keys and anticipating the play. He plays under control so he rarely overpursues and is almost never out of position. Willis is a smart enough player that with time he could develop into an adequate pass defender, making him a 3 down linebacker in an NFL 4-3 scheme.

NFL Comparison - London Fletcher

Runner Up - HB Blades, Sr. Pittsburgh

Blades has been a highly productive linebacker at Pitt, twice earning all Big East honors. Blades started his career as a strong side outside linebacker, but shifted to middle in 2005. He has the speed and size to make all the plays, although his is not as polished as Willis. Blades projects as a strong side NFL linebacker in the mold of Jamie Sharper.

Outside Linebackers: Paul Posluszny, Sr. Penn State; Rufus Alexander, Sr. Oklahoma

Posluszny, the reigning Butkus Award winner, is flat out the best defensive player in America. He is blessed with the size (6'2'' 230 lbs.), speed (4.5), and smarts you want in your defensive leader. Had he not hurt his knee in last year's Orange Bowl, he would have been an early first round pick and should be a man among boys playing in the college game this season. The most impressive thing about Posluszny, though, is his ability to stay within the scheme and still make as many tackles as he does. Unlike former Nittany Lion Lavar Arrington, Posluszny never freelances, and always finds himself in the right position. He has great closing speed, and is the best backside pursuit linebacker I have seen.

NFL Comparison - Jesse Armstead

Physically, Alexander is similar to, perhaps even a step ahead of, Posluszny. At 6'3'', 230 lbs. he has the frame to add more weight should an NFL wish to move him to the strong side or into the middle. However, if I drafted him I would leave him on the weak side where his tremendous speed and instincts allow him to roam free and make plays in the backfield. The only area where Alexander's game is lacking is discipline. While he made a mind-boggline 17 tackles for a loss last season, Alexander can get caught out of position by patient runners. With so many zone blocking schemes in the NFL, Alexander is going to have to learn how to play the cutback better. He could learn a thing or two from Posluszny.

NFL Comparison - Takeo Spikes

Runner Up - Sam Oljabutu, Sr. Arkansas

At 5'9'' and 230 lbs., Oljabutu is a kamikaze on the football field. He is a ferocious hitter who plays with a chip on his shoulder. A great college player, he reminds me a lot of former Clemson standout Keith Adams who has carved out a niche for himself in the NFL as a special teams gunner and occasional nickel linebacker.

Cornerbacks: Antoine Cason, Jr. Arizona; Daymeion Hughes, Sr. California

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cason is the second Stoops coached player on my preseason all America defense. Cason is not as high a profile player as Oklahoma's Rufus Alexander, but then again Mike Stoops is not as high profile a coach as his brother Bob. Though his teams have struggled record wise, Mike Stoops has quietly turned the University of Arizona into a very formidable opponent. Like his elder brother, Mike Stoops relies on a hard hitting, physical defense to torment the opposition. Cason fits that mold perfectly. A tremendous athlete, Cason is one of the few cornerbacks in America capable of playing both man-to-man coverage and zone. He has safety like tackling skills, racking up 120 stops in his first two seasons in Tuscon. Playing in the "air it out" Pac-10, Cason has had to develope quickly and projects as an NFL corner, ready to start from Day 1.

NFL Comparison - Antoine Winfield

Hughes is probably the most physically gifted cornerback in America. Blessed with outstanding size at 6'2'' and 180 lbs., Hughes has the athletic ability to dominate most opponents in man-to-man coverage. Though he can struggle in zone at times, there is no reason to think that Hughes cannot improve on his recognition skills will more time. You can teach a player to read coverages in a zone, you can't teach the kind of athletic ability Hughes sports. Though he is not as sure a tackler as Cason, Hughes never shies away from contact and is willing to come up in run support. If Hughes is drafted into the right NFL system, he could blossom into an absolute superstar lock-down corner.

NFL Comparison - Shawn Springs

Runner Up - Leon Hall, Sr. Michigan

Hall gets the nod because of his overall potential. At 5'11'' and 190 lbs. Hall is a compact corner in the mold of former Wolverines Ty Law and Marlin Jackson. While Hall has the potential to be the best cover corner in the country, he has yet to show that he can consistently play at a high level. How Hall harnesses his ability this season will determine whether he develops into a perennial all-pro like Ty Law, or a disappointment like Jackson.

Free Safety: Brandon Meriweather, Sr. Miami

I remember watching Miami-FSU early last season, and wondering who the Miami kid was who was flying all over the field making plays. I also remember wondering why the Seminols didn't go away from him. Well the player was Brandon Meriweather, and the reason they didn't go away from him was they couldn't. Technically a strong safety at Miami, Meriweather has the speed and instincts to play either safety spot. Meriweather may not be as flashy as former Hurricane Ed Reed, or as big of a hitter as Sean Taylor, but I prefer his game to either. Too often safety prospects are overrated because they make big interceptions like Reed, or big hits like Taylor. Meriweather is a steady safety, who may not make as many interceptions as Reed, but is far superior in deep coverage (Reed's highlight reel interceptions mask his shortcomings covering the deep pass). Similarly, Meriweather is not a 235 lbs. behemoth like Taylor, but he is a willing, sure tackler who knows his role as last line of defense. Overall, Meriweather is a technically sound safety who just makes plays.

NFL Comparison - Darren Sharper

Strong Safety: Tom Zbikowski, Sr. Notre Dame

While Zbikowski does not have the natural ability of some of the other defensive backs in the country, he more than makes up for it in leadership and toughness. A part time boxer, Zbikowski is easliy the best player on a weak Irish defense and probably the toughest player in the nation. While he can struggle in coverage at times, there is no denying that he is one of the surest tacklers in the nation and is never afraid to stick his nose into a fray. Like Meriweather, he is a smart player who uses his instincts and desire to make up for his less than adequate speed. Comparing him to John Lynch may be a bit generous, but Zbikowski is smart enough and tough enough to succeed as a cover 2 strong safety in the NFL.

NFL Comparison - the late Pat Tillman

Runner Up - Mike Griffin, Sr. Texas

Griffin earns the nod by a hair over LSU's LaRon Landry because of his versatility. Like former Longhorn great Mike Huff, Griffin can line up at either safety spot, corner, and can even cover the slot man in a nickel set. To think that the Longhorns had the trio of him, Huff, and Cedric Griffin in the same secondary last season is scary.

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Hard to argue, well, easy to argue but not necessarily worth it. Definitely a well-studied group of selections. Two quick things. First, no cornerbacks. So pick a couple. Second, comparing Zibikowski (not bothering to check the spelling now) to Tillman and Lynch is a tad racial, ya think? Just fucking with you, altho I did appreciate the way you did NOT compare Szmardija with Ed McCaffrey. Nice work.
 
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