It’s very early in the process, but there are certain prospects being mentioned in 2013 NFL Draft discussions that make me wonder if we’re watching the same games. At the same time, there are other players who have rarely been mentioned at all. Time to set the record straight. Here are the most overrated and underrated prospects heading into the 2012 college football season.
QB Landry Jones, Oklahoma
There isn’t a quarterback more overrated for the 2013 NFL Draft than Lance Jones. Many people thought that his returning to school was a good call and an opportunity to improve upon glaring weaknesses in his game. He has been working with quarterback guru George Whitfield, so maybe there is some hope but Jones was so bad to finish the season that I thought he should leave for the NFL Draft while he still has the chance to get drafted. He has a killer arm and produces ridiculous statistics in the Oklahoma offense, but if his issue of soiling his pants every time he feels pressure doesn’t improve, it may be time for the Sooners to move on to the Blake Bell era.
QB Aaron Murray, Georgia
Murray is a good, athletic college quarterback but he just doesn’t rub me as a great NFL prospect. He is undersized (listed at 6’1, which means that he is at best 6’1) and way too jumpy in the pocket. His jumpiness and inconsistency reminds me far too much of Rex Grossman (who was also 6’1 and productive at an SEC school). It’s difficult to be so hard on him because he plays tough but I would not be confident taking him in the first 2 rounds of the draft.
RB Montee Ball, Wisconsin
This is a toughy that I will probably get some hate mail for. Montee Ball will become a good NFL running back, but good is as high as I can go. He has nice patience and surprising shiftiness, solid hands and doesn’t cough up the ball, but he lacks elite breakaway speed and his offensive line was just so damn good last year that Ball went into the endzone or gained a large chunk of his yardage often untouched. He is solid, but I fail to see anything special.
OT Xavier Nixon, Florida
Xavier Nixon automatically gets mentioned in NFL Draft circles because he has 22 career starts at a school like Florida, including 5 starts his true freshman year – when he became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for the Gators since 1992. Add in the fact that he was a former 5 star recruit and what more do you need to see? How about some actual games? Nixon was solid in his first season (where he was protecting the non-blind side of Tim Tebow) but he has failed to improve since then and was even benched last season. Courtney Upshaw did some things to him that are just too dirty to be repeated here. If he struggles in the slightest, don’t be surprised if Florida benches him in favor of freshman D.J. Humphries – who is the most athletic looking tackle that I’ve ever seen in person.
DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Don’t get me wrong, Jeffcoat has shown some flashes and is still very raw. But fact is, some are ranking him as the top defensive end prospect and a top 5 pick, which is flat out ridiculous based on tape. Jackson was easily shut down when matched up with the top tackles that he faced all season in Mitchell Schwartz and Luke Joeckel. In fact, on one occasion Schwartz pushed Jackson 10 yards back as if he had on roller skates. Actually, maybe Jackson would have been pushed back less if he had on roller skates. Either way, looking at the stats and recruiting rankings, one would think that Jeffcoat looked like a stud last year. While I don’t deny that he has 1st round potential, his stiffness and inability to anchor make what he has done in his career not worthy of being a top 15 pick – yet.
DE Margus Hunt, Southern Methodist
I actually like Margus Hunt, but this is a situation of people taking it to the next level. Hunt is a special teams phenomenon with his uncanny kick-blocking ability. As of right now though, that’s all he is. Up until the Pittsburgh game when he stepped in due to injury, he wasn’t even a starter. That game he did look phenomenal but that is pretty much his entire resume as a defender. Monitor him this year for sure but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
RB Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
Zac Stacy is a tough runner against tough competition. He rushed for 1,200 yards in the SEC behind Vanderbilt’s offensive line – that is saying something. That’s like the equivalent of rushing for 2,000 yards behind Alabama’s stud offensive line. Stacy fits the mold of a short, low center of gravity running back with power and quickness. He’s still not quite a 1st round talent but the fact that he very rarely is mentioned in NFL Draft circles needs to change.
OG Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
Playing in between Mike Adams and Michael Brewster, it’s not surprising that Norwell was overlooked last season. Even I tuned in to Michigan State versus Ohio State in order to watch Michael Brewster go head to head with Jerel Worthy. What I found out instead was that Andrew Norwell was clearly the best offensive lineman on the Ohio State team and did not lose one battle to Worthy all game. In fact, from the looks of it he hardly broke a sweat. Keep an eye on Andrew Norwell this year.
DE James Gayle, Virginia Tech
On the attacking Virginia Tech defense, it’s tough for one specific player to stand out, but for me the Hokies left defensive end James Gayle did just that. He fires off like a canon with active hands, a plus motor, and a mean streak. He doesn’t possess a great bull-rush and isn’t particularly overpowering in run defense but James Gayle deserves to be mentioned with the likes of Jeffcoat, Lemonier, Montgomery, Mingo, Jenkins, and Okafor.
DE/LB/DT Roosevelt Nix, Kent State
At 6’0 240, I honestly have no idea what position that Nix will play in the NFL – but he will play. His production is just uncanny. He was the first freshman to ever be named MAC defensive player of the year when he racked up 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. His encore sophomore year wasn’t much worse, with 17 tackles for loss and 3 forced fumbles. Most of this, may I add, as a 240 pound interior defensive lineman. It’s not just the competition either, Nix had 2 tackles for loss and a sack against Alabama. The guy can play, the only question is where.
CB Bud Noel, Wake Forest
When a redshirt freshman is his teams’ leading solo tackler and one of the national leaders in pass breakups yet is very rarely mentioned in NFL Draft scouting circles, there is something wrong. Merrill (aka Bud) Noel may just be a redshirt sophomore but if he repeats his freshman performance he’ll be the talk of the town come next April if he decides to declare. Scouting cornerbacks on television is tough, but Noel stands out.
CB/S Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
One of the surest tacklers in college football, Dixon has been head and shoulders better than any other defender on the Baylor Bears defense. What’s funny is that watching the Baylor getting picked apart, you’ll notice that it is very rarely on Dixon. He is a great football player who might just be the slot cornerback in the Charles Woodson mold that NFL defensive coordinators are longing for. He was one of the highest rated players to ever choose Baylor out of high school and has exceeded expectations.
CB/S Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
It’s sad that I have to list one of the biggest defensive playmakers that the college game has seen in years as underrated. The Honey Badger can change the tone of an entire defense. If you look up “swagger” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure that you’ll see Mathieu. He may be lucky to measure at 5’9 but it certainly hasn’t held him back playing in the toughest college football conference. His spot in the NFL will be as a solid run support nickel cornerback or as a safety. The fact that some have him falling out of round two is upsetting; I wouldn’t bat an eyelash if a team wanted to take him in the top 10. He is a gamechanger with a nose for the football and a desire to not just execute plays, but make them.
So there you have some of the players that I feel are either receiving too much NFL Draft attention or too little at this point in the evaluation process. For more notes on 2013 prospects, feel free to check out my Google document with over 200 prospects covered: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Agp_TgJnjBoedGpaX1NtTjFMYlpRc3V0LVNVeWlGN3c#gid=13