Re: NFL Draft Scout 2015 Draft Previews
2015 NFL Draft: Stanford Preview
By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
June 23, 2014 10:09 am ET
Jim Harbaugh has deservedly been credited with turning around the Stanford football program.
David Shaw has since taken Stanford to greater heights -- including consecutive Pac-12 championships and four straight BCS bowl games.
The NFL has certainly noticed. Six Stanford players were drafted a year ago, matching the highest number from the school since 1944. The majority of them came from the offensive line and in the front seven of a defense that finished third in the nation in run defense.
Those losses put the pressure on Shaw, new defensive coordinator Lance Anderson and a Trio of Trees on offense to keep the Cardinal perched on top in the Pac-12.
Stanford's top NFL Draft-eligible prospects to watch in 2014
1. OT Andrus Peat, RS Junior (6-6 | 312 | 5.28 | #70)
During the Harbaugh-Shaw era, size and strength have been prioritized over athleticism at virtually every position. In Peat, however, the Cardinal boast a massive blocker with rare athleticism.
Peat signed with Stanford as a highly regarded prep and he's proven worthy of his praise, earning playing time as a true freshman on an offensive line filled with NFL talent. He's started the past two seasons at left tackle and has the rare traits to handle remaining here in the NFL.
Peat is impressive on the hoof. He has long arms, broad shoulders and good weight distribution with tree trunks for thighs. Given Peat's monstrous frame, it is almost unfair that he gains an immediate advantage on his opponent with surprising quickness off the snap. He is balanced and light on his feet to slip out to the second level and can adjust to moving targets. In pass protection, Peat has the agility to slip wide to his left, sealing off speed rushers trying to turn the corner, as well the strength to latch and control defenders. Peat is patient, allowing the defender to come to him, showing good lateral agility and balance to mirror.
While a remarkable talent, Peat does have some areas in which he can improve. He comes off the ball too high and doesn't explode through his hips to drive opponents backward, settling to turn and seal. In pass pro, he will occasionally get lazy and bend at the waist, leaning into pass rushers and inviting counter-moves back to the inside. This flaw could be exposed more in 2014 now that former Morris Trophy Award winner David Yankey is playing for the Minnesota Vikings rather than starring at left guard.
Occasional lapses in technique is the kind of nit-picking that could happen with Peat, who, otherwise looks the part of a future high first round pick. Peat, in fact, checks in at No. 6 on my personal Top 32 for 2015 -- just ahead of his quarterback.
2. QB Kevin Hogan, RS Junior (6-4 | 228 | 4.72 | #8)
In guiding Stanford to a Rose Bowl win as a redshirt freshman the year after Andrew Luck left town, Hogan set the bar pretty high for himself.
All he did last season -- his first full year as the starter -- was help Stanford return to Pasadena, boost his numbers in every category and compile a 10-1 record against Top 25 teams. He certainly struggled in some games -- including in the loss to Michigan State to end the year -- but the NFL-caliber talent is undeniable.
Hogan passes the eye test with a broad-shouldered, well-built frame for the position. He has an elongated wind-up that will earn plenty of criticism in the pre-draft process but like San Diego Chargers star Philip Rivers, Hogan's instincts, accuracy and velocity are enough to overcome the quirky delivery. Hogan has good accuracy to all levels with especially impressive touch on deep passes when he has the room to step into his throw. Hogan has been well protected by the elite talent blocking in front of him but when pressure does force him off his spot, he is willing to step up in the pocket, exhibiting poise, toughness and quick decision-making to either throw or run. Like Luck before him, Hogan is faster (and stronger) than he looks, making him a formidable threat on the run. Stanford's scheme calls for lots of play-action, boots and throwing on the move and deep shots -- staples of a pro-style offense that suit Hogan's athleticism and strong arm well.
One of the biggest knocks on Hogan is largely one he can't do much about. Like Jim Harbaugh before him, Shaw believes in a power-running game and physical defense, often putting his quarterback in the position to play game-manager rather than gunslinger. This strategy doesn't lend itself to gaudy statistics and Hogan certainly doesn't have them, posting "just" 3,726 yards and 29 touchdowns against 13 interceptions in 20 starts.
Hogan flashes enticing talent but he struggled in surprising road losses at Utah and Southern Cal a year ago. Considering the losses along the offensive line and that the meat of Stanford's tough 2014 schedule is also on the road, Hogan's poise will be tested in 2014.
3. WR Ty Montgomery, Senior (6-2 | 215 | 4.46 | #7)
Wide receivers aren't as valued as quarterbacks and left tackles by NFL scouts but there is no denying the impact Montgomery had for the Cardinal during last season, a breakout campaign in which the Dallas native racked up 2,208 all-purpose yards -- third most in school history.
Montgomery earned consensus All-American honors as a kick returner, averaging 30.3 yards per opportunity with touchdowns. He also led Stanford with 61 catches for 958 yards and 10 scores, many of them of the dramatic variety.
Montgomery is a different caliber of athlete than we've seen at Stanford in recent seasons. He is well-built and fluid, changing directions well and boasting sudden acceleration to leave defenders in his wake. He is very aggressive, bursting upfield and fighting through arm- tackles to generate positive yardage rather than dancing to avoid contact. He's asked to run a variety of routes in this pro-style scheme but does most of his damage on quick screens and verticals and could stand to improve the consistency of his breaks.
Montgomery flashed early on at Stanford, emerging as a starter in the final four games of his freshman season (2012) and catching seven passes for 120 yards in the Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma State. Torn knee ligaments derailed most of his sophomore season and he finished with just 26 catches for 213 yards.
4. DT Henry Anderson, RS Senior (6-5 | 295 | 5.06 | #91)
While Stanford lost two tough, versatile defensive linemen in Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner to the NFL, Anderson returns after missing much of last season due to a left knee injury. Despite being limited to just seven games, Anderson still earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 acknowledgement, his second consecutive year with post-season honors.
New defensive coordinator Lance Anderson (no relation) hopes his star pupil returns to the form that helped him earned second-team honors in 2012 while racking up 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Despite his imposing build, Anderson is just as likely to be beat opponents with his quickness off the snap as he is power. Anderson varies his pass rush speeds and chops with hands to create space and slip into the backfield. He's more flexible than he looks and uses his long arms to lasso ball-carriers.
Anderson shows good functional strength to lock-out and create a pile but struggles a bit with leverage as he tires. He projects better as a five technique defensive end rather than a nose guard, though he's played both roles in Stanford's predominately 3-4 package under former defensive coordinator Derek Mason, who left Palo Alto to take the head coaching position at Vanderbilt.
Other Stanford prospects worth watching
FS Kodi Whitfield, Junior (6-2 | 196 | 4.58 | #9)
Despite arguably the most spectacular touchdown grab of the 2013 season on his resume, Whitfield spent the off-season making the transition from wide receiver to free safety. Whitfield, the son of legendary Stanford tackle Bob Whitfield, is a rangy athlete with good speed and flexibility.
OLB James Vaughters, Senior (6-2 | 254 | 4.73 | #9)
Vaughters is among a group of linebackers tasked with replacing All-Americans Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. He has worked his way up the depth chart, recording a career-high 36 tackles a year ago and flashing big-play ability with six tackles for loss and four sacks. Vaughters has good lateral agility for a player of his size and generates good pop as a hitter. He is a breakout candidate to keep an eye on this fall.
CB Wayne Lyons, Senior (6-0 | 196 | 4.56 | #2)
Lyons signed with Stanford with much fanfare as a celebrated prep athlete and academic but had only flashed as a reserve before emerging as a starter in 2013. He's a coordinated athlete with a good burst to close downhill and helps set the edge against the run.
ILB A.J Tarpley, RS Senior (6-1 | 238 | 4.84 | #17)
With Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov now in the NFL, Tarpley is Stanford's leader at linebacker. His 216 career tackles are a testament to Tarpley's toughness and instincts but he doesn't possess explosive speed or power.
SS Jordan Richards, Senior (5-11 | 208 | 4.57 | #8)
Richards has enjoyed a productive career for the Cardinal, racking up post-season all-conferences honors after each of the past two seasons. He has good agility and gets his hands on a lot of passes (22 PBUs over his career) but must do a better job of fighting through blocks and making reliable tackles in the open field to overcome his lack of ideal size.
Re: NFL Draft Scout 2015 Draft Previews
2015 NFL Draft: UCLA Preview
By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
June 24, 2014 1:30 pm ET
Put simply, the transformation that has occurred at UCLA since Jim Mora took over as head coach has been remarkable.
The difference between he and recent prior coaches isn't just found in the win/lose category - though Mora's record with the Bruins (19-8) after two seasons certainly stands out in comparison to Rick Neuheisel (21-30) and Karl Dorrell (35-28). And it isn't just his 2-0 record against rival Southern Cal, which ended a 12-1 run by the Trojans.
Mora and his staff have made the Bruins tougher and more technically sound. That has resulted in nine Bruins getting drafted over the past two years - more than in any two-year span in a decade.
This year's class is again loaded with NFL talent, headlined, of course, by redshirt junior quarterback Brett Hundley. Best of all, several of the Bruins' best players - including superstar Myles Jack - are true sophomores (or younger) and therefore UCLA's run as a Pac-12 powerhouse may be just beginning.
UCLA's top NFL Draft-eligible prospects to watch in 2014:
1. QB Brett Hundley, RS Junior (6-3 | 222 | 4.64 | #17)
It has been a long time since a Bruins' quarterback has excited NFL scouts. The last UCLA quarterback drafted, in fact, was Cade McNown, whom the Chicago Bears selected in the first round 15 years ago. While the wait has been long, Hundley is rewarding the UCLA faithful. With the athletic frame, arm and mobility to earn comparisons to a young Randall Cunningham, Hundley looks every bit the part of a future first round pick.
Hundley was convinced to leave the state of Arizona (where he played his prep ball) by Neuheisel but never played for the coach, redshirting his first year at UCLA. Under Mora and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, Hundley has developed into a dual-threat star, either running or passing for a touchdown in all 27 games of his career. He's completed 66.8% of his passes for 6,816 yards and 53 touchdowns against just 20 interceptions. He's also run for 1,103 yards and 20 scores in just two seasons.
Hundley looks the part with a tall, well-built frame and a quick set-up and delivery of the football. He has a terrific arm that can easily make any NFL throw. He is a dynamic athlete with vision and poise with the elusiveness and speed to turn short scrambles into long gains, like the 72-yard jaunt for a touchdown on his first snap in a UCLA uniform (Rice, 2012).
While Hundley's talent is obvious, he made the correct decision in returning to the Bruins for another season of development. Hundley takes virtually every snap from shotgun and typically relies upon pre-snap reads in a relatively simple offense. When his intended target is covered up, Hundley doesn't always maximize other options downfield before tucking the ball and running it himself. Further, Hundley doesn't consistently hit his receivers in stride, limiting yardage-after-the-catch opportunities.
On the surface, Hundley's skill-set seems every bit as tantalizing as Oregon's Marcus Mariota or Florida State's Jameis Winston. To leapfrog these two as the elite quarterback prospect in the country, however, Hundley will need to improve in the critical subtleties of the quarterback position - reading defenses and ball placement.
2. DT Ellis McCarthy, Junior (6-3 | 330 | 5.08 | #90)
McCarthy, a celebrated prep prospect, signed with Mora and the Bruins amid much fanfare in 2012 but has struggled with nagging injuries and hasn't yet proven the consistently dominant force that his size, power and athleticism seem to make possible.
He recorded 10 tackles as a true freshman and earned honorable mention all-conference honors a year ago with 31 tackles, including four tackles for loss and two sacks in 13 games (including eight starts).
McCarthy has been used at nose guard and defensive end in UCLA's predominately 3-4 attack. He projects best inside, where his wide frame and strength allow him to eat up blockers and free up teammates to make plays. He can stun opponents with his initial quickness and agility and uses an effective bull-rush to push blockers deep into the pocket. He seemed to tire quickly last season (despite being regularly substituted) and was overshadowed, at times, by some of UCLA's more active defensive linemen, including fellow underclassmen Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark. In McCarthy's defense, he showed toughness by playing through knee injuries (he's underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus) and played his best football down the stretch last year.
NFL teams looking for a massive two-gap run-plugger will be very intrigued by McCarthy. To earn the high selection that his tools warrant, however, he'll need to play with greater consistency. If he does so, McCarthy could skyrocket up draft boards.
3. ILB Eric Kendricks, RS Senior (6-0 | 228 | 4.78 | #6)
Between Eric, older brother Mychal (former LB at Cal, now starting for the Philadelphia Eagles) and father, Marvin (former RB at UCLA and in CFL), the Kendricks have been terrorizing Pac opponents for decades.
Like Mychal, the No. 46th overall pick in 2012, Eric is instinctive, aggressive and a considerably more explosive hitter than his frame suggests. He closes quickly and with force, leading to some emphatic take-downs. He's very light on his feet, showing good agility, flexibility and balance to avoid would-be blockers when he rushing the quarterback. Kendricks' athleticism and awareness makes him effective in coverage, though he has just two interceptions in 28 career starts.
Kendricks led the Pac-12 with 150 tackles in 2012, his first full season as starter for the Bruins. It was the most tackles recorded by a UCLA defender since Jerry Robinson recorded a school-record 161 in 1978. Voted a team captain last year, Kendricks again led the team in tackles (106) despite the fact that he missed two games and was limited in a variety of others due to lingering shoulder and ankle issues.
4. OL Malcolm Bunche, RS Senior (6-6 | 327 | 5.24 | #79)
Bunche will be making his debut with the Bruins this fall after playing the last four years at the University of Miami. He redshirted with the 'Canes in 2010 and played in 31 games over the next three seasons, starting 14 times. He started all 12 games at left tackle for Miami in 2012 but earned just one start a year ago and that came at left guard in the season opener against Florida International.
Because he has already graduated, Bunche was given the freedom to transfer and play immediately. He narrowed his choices to Texas Tech and UCLA early in the process and is expected to slide in at left guard as Xavier Su'a-Filo's replacement.
Like his former teammates at Miami, Seantrel Henderson (6-foot-7, 331 pounds) and Orlando Franklin (6-foot-7, 320), at first glance, Bunche's massive frame would seem to make him a more natural tackle. For such a large man Bunche is surprisingly fluid in his initial kick-slide and he uses his long arms to latch onto pass rushers.
He has only average initial quickness, however, and doesn't re-set quickly, too often allowing counter-moves back to the inside to beat him. Protected inside at guard, Bunche's powerful hands and leg drive could help him emerge quickly as one of the Pac-12's top run blockers. Despite this being his only season on the team, Bunche's raw tools and potential position versatility will make him one of UCLA's most intriguing NFL prospects this year.
Other UCLA prospects worth watching:
OC Jake Brendel, RS Junior (6-3 | 285 | 4.96 | #54)
Brendel was overshadowed by Su'a-Filo a year ago but proved very dependable in his second season as UCLA's center. He's athletic, strong and tenacious and looks like a strong bet to join his former teammate in the NFL in the coming years.
FS Anthony Jefferson, RS Senior (6-0 | 185 | 4.58 | #23)
Jefferson emerged as an all-conference honorable mention pick in 2013, his first season as a starter. He recorded 89 tackles, seven passes broken up, two interceptions and recovered two fumbles. Jefferson is a fluid athlete with good speed and is an aggressive, physical hitter.
Re: NFL Draft Scout 2015 Draft Previews
2015 NFL Draft: USC Preview
By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
June 25, 2014 2:01 pm ET
Southern Cal's roller-coaster 2014 season of shuffling between Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron seems like the distant past with Steve Sarkisian now running the show.
Sarkisian left the University of Washington abruptly but the talent that he helped recruit to Seattle (and develop once there) deserves acknowledgement - especially considering that he is inheriting a Trojans' squad that may not possess more draftable prospects in 2015 than the one he left behind.
Scholarship sanctions dating back to the Pete Carroll days hurt USC, both in terms of wins and NFL prospects. During Carroll's hey-day, the Trojans consistently were among the NFL's greatest producers of talent, averaging nine players and two first round picks selected from 2005-2011. The Trojans have averaged just over three players selected each year since that time and haven't had a player drafted amongst the top 32 since 2012.
Sarkisian could be a beneficiary of good timing, as this year's Trojans' squad is led by junior defensive lineman Leonard Williams, a 6-foot-4, 290 pound monster who ranks among the elite talents at any position in all of college football.
USC's top NFL Draft-eligible prospects to watch in 2014:
1. DT Leonard Williams, Junior (6-4 | 290 | 4.88 | #94)
While Southern Cal has endured some relatively down years recently, it is rare that a true freshman walks in and makes a significant impact in the land of Troy, especially along the line of scrimmage. That is precisely what Williams did in 2012, however, after signing with USC out of Daytona Beach, FL.
Operating at defensive tackle, Williams registered a 64 tackles, including 13.5 for loss and eight sacks, earning Defensive Freshman of the Year honors from the Pac-12. He was moved outside to end in 2013 and was even more productive, ranking second on the team with 74 tackles, while picking up another 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, despite being limited by a shoulder injury.
Williams is an exceptional talent, boasting a rare combination of size, easy athleticism and raw power. He possesses a naturally large frame with broad shoulders, long limbs and a trim middle that makes it easy to see why the Trojans have rotated him all over the defensive line. Williams has impressive initial quickness, lateral agility, flexibility and balance to penetrate gaps and attack on stunts. He has very long arms, which allows him to keep blockers from latching on. For a young player, Williams shows good technique to chop away opponents when they are able to initially lock him up. He locates the football quickly and has good speed for pursuit.
When the game comes as easily to a player as it appears to with Williams, it is easy to nit-pick technique and consistency. Williams, like most taller defensive tackles, struggles at times with leverage. He gets his hands into passing lanes but needs to show better awareness and hand-eye coordination to make those big mitts weapons as recorded no pass deflections a year ago after knocking down four passes as a freshman.
A year after Jadeveon Clowney proved that the exceptionally gifted can have a down year and still earn the No. 1 overall pick, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which Williams doesn't wind up among the top five selections of the 2015 draft. There isn't a defensive coordinator in the NFL who wouldn't love the opportunity to coach this young prodigy, which is why Williams checks in as the top-rated defensive player of my personal list of 2015's best NFL prospects.
2. CB Josh Shaw, RS Senior (6-1 | 195 | 4.55 | #6)
Shaw signed with the Florida Gators after an impressive prep career in Palmdale, CA and saw action in one game as a true freshman before a knee injury earned him a redshirt. He appeared in 10 games in 2011, carving out playing time on a secondary boasting a number of future NFL draft picks and recorded 22 tackles.
Poor health for his father and grandfather pushed Shaw back to California and the NCAA granted him a hardship waiver to participate immediately. Shaw initially played at strong safety but eventually made the move to cornerback and started the final seven games there for USC, recording 30 tackles, six pass deflections and two interceptions. His position versatility was extended in 2013 when he started all 14 games (11 at corner, three at free safety) and he posted 67 tackles, including 5.5 for loss. Shaw also broke up seven passes and intercepted four others. He returned one of his interceptions for a touchdown (Hawaii) and scooped up a blocked punt against Cal for another defensive score.
Shaw possesses a muscled-up frame that makes him look like a safety but given the NFL's recent love affair with bigger cornerbacks, he could remain on the perimeter. He has quick feet and fluid hips to change directions but may not possess ideal straight-line speed. Shaw possesses terrific football intelligence, which is demonstrated not only with his ability to shuffle from corner to either of the safety position but in the closing burst he shows once the ball has been thrown. Shaw is rarely fooled in coverage and rips at the ball as it arrives. He is a reliable, consistent tackler, though he hasn't yet proven to be the intimidating hitter that his frame suggests.
3. WR Nelson Agholor, Junior (6-0 | 185 | 4.53 | #15)
With star Marqise Lee struggling for much of the 2013 season with injury, Agholor emerged as Southern Cal's most reliable receiver and punt returner. He recorded 56 catches for 918 yards and six touchdowns and another 343 yards and two scores as a returner in a breakout campaign that earned him a host of post-season accolades, including some All-American nods.
Like former teammates Lee and Robert Woods, Agholor sports a lean, athletic frame, good lateral agility to elude and sudden acceleration. Agholor shows good quickness and balance as a route-runner and is asked to run a variety of routes in USC's pro-style scheme. He generally catches the ball cleanly with his hands (some bobbles, however) and secures it quickly. He possesses very good vision to set up blocks, as well as the courage and quickness to cut-back against the grain to take advantage of over-pursuing defenders.
Agholor currently ranks as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 2 receiver in the 2016 class.
Other USC prospects worth watching:
OG Aundrey Walker, Senior (6-5 | 300 | 5.21 | #70)
Walker has proven a valuable swingman for the Trojans, logging starts at left tackle and right guard over the past two seasons and serving as a backup virtually all over the line. He is expected to start at guard again in 2014 but missed the spring recovering from a broken left ankle suffered against UCLA last season. Walker looks the part of an NFL lineman, boasting long arms and a proportionate frame. He is powerful but not particularly nimble.
DE J.R. Tavai, Senior (6-2 | 270 | 4.79 | #58)
Tavai has struggled with durability throughout his career but flashed impact ability in 2013 while rotating between outside linebacker and defensive end, recording a career-high 56 tackles, including eight for loss. Tavai is powerful, relatively light on his feet and plays with a high-revving motor but his 'tweener traits and medical concerns mean that he needs a strong cap to his collegiate career to earn a draft selection.
RB Javorius Allen, RS Junior (6-0 | 215 | 4.54 | #37)
"Buck" Allen entered the 2013 season with just six carries to his credit but emerged as Southern Cal's most dependable back as the year went on, eclipsing the 100 yard mark four times and scoring a total of 12 touchdowns in their final six games. Allen has a high-cut frame and a gliding, deceptively powerful running style and offers help in the passing game as both a receiver and blocker.
ILB Hayes Pullard, RS Senior (6-1 | 230 | 4.73 | #10)
Pullard has a been rock in the middle of the Trojans' defense over his career, logging 39 starts and recording 282 tackles, including 20 for loss. He is a feisty, instinctive defender with a quick burst to close but has size limitations. Pullard is savvy enough to slip past some blockers and make tackles close to the line of scrimmage but he struggles to break free once engaged and gets lost in the traffic.
Re: NFL Draft Scout 2015 Draft Previews
2015 NFL Draft: Utah Preview
By Rob Rang | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com
June 26, 2014 2:12 am ET
The jump to the Pac-12 conference hasn't gone as well as hoped for Kyle Whittingham and his Utes. Utah has gone 9-18 in conference games over their three seasons, watching their record drop from 4-5 in 2011 to 3-6 in 2012 to just 2-7 against Pac-12 foes a year ago. One of those victories, however, was a stunning 27-21 victory over Stanford, the eventual conference champions.
The game served as a breakout party of sorts for Utah's most intriguing prospect for the 2015 NFL draft, electric wideout Dres Anderson, who scored two touchdowns (including a 51-yard reception) in the biggest home upset in school history.
Anderson will have to prove in 2014 that his big play ways won't be lost with defenders keying in on him. The addition of longtime NFL and NCAA coach Dennis Erickson to the Whittingham's staff could help Anderson and the rest of the Utes take another step.
Utah's top NFL Draft-eligible prospects to watch in 2014:
1. WR Dres Anderson, Senior (6-1 | 190 | 4.53 | #6)
As Seattle Seahawks' general manager John Schneider has been known to do, the defending Super Bowl champions surprised many with selecting Pac-12 speedster Paul Richardson with his team's first pick of the 2014 draft. Anderson, the son of 10-year NFL receiver Willie "Flipper" Anderson, is hoping to ride a similar wave of big play ability as the former Buffalo into an early round selection next spring.
Despite marginal play at quarterback in 2013, Anderson nearly tripled the production he posted as a sophomore, becoming just the seventh Ute to eclipse the 1,000 yard receiving mark (1,002 yards). Much of his production came on big plays. Though few outside of the Pac-12 know his name, no one caught more than Anderson's seven passes of 50+ yards a year ago.
Anderson's very lean frame (especially in his lower body) is sure to draw some concern from scouts but it is worth noting that he hasn't missed a game due to injury and is often asked to make plays across the middle. Anderson boasts impressive first-step acceleration and lateral agility to slip through creases and break away from the defense. He's frequently targeted on relatively simple passes like screens and as vertical threat but also runs pro-style routes (slants, comebacks, crosses, drags) that require more sophistication. He shows very good hand-eye coordination and body control to contort in space to make the tough reception, though his spindly frame puts him at a disadvantage on 50-50 balls.
2. DE Nate Orchard, Senior (6-3 | 255 | 4.76 | #8)
Orchard initially signed with Utah as a wide receiver and with the last name Fakahafua. He adopted the last name of his guardians after two years at Utah but didn't wait that long to switch positions, earning time at defensive end, linebacker and special teams as a true freshman, notching four tackles and two passes broken up.
Orchard emerged as Utah's starting left defensive end in 2012, earning honorable mention all-conference honors with 48 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He demonstrated an intriguing ability to make big plays in big games, registering a forced fumble that he recovered and took back for a touchdown against USC and eight tackles, including a sack, against Washington. Orchard continued his playmaking ways as a junior, posting five tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in the Utes' shocking win over previously undefeated Stanford. He finished the year with 50 tackles, including nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Orchard's ascent as a legitimate NFL prospect is due to a combination of size, natural athleticism and his hard work. He has packed 60 pounds of muscle onto his frame since signing with the Utes as a 195-pound receiver and has retained his agility. He shows good quickness and balance to elude blockers and force quarterbacks to get off their spot. His flexibility and awareness makes his effective dropping off into coverage, as well.
3. S Eric Rowe, Senior (6-1 | 205 | 4.53 | #18)
A three-year starter and all-conference pick at free safety, Rowe is expected to make the move to cornerback in 2014 to help ease the loss of Keith McGill, a fourth round pick by the Oakland Raiders.
Rowe's length, broad-shouldered frame and straight-line speed (Utah coaches reportedly clocked him at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash) make him an intriguing prospect regardless of where he ultimately lines up. He enters his senior campaign with 202 tackles and 21 passes broken up and is well-versed in pro-style schemes given Utah's heavy man coverage philosophy.
It remains to be seen how well Rowe will acclimate to cornerback. He shows good balance, a quick turning motion and the fluid acceleration while operating as a deep centerfielder. He's alert in coverage and is quick to come downhill in run support. He breaks down well to make the efficient open-field tackle and flashes big-hitting ability. With only two interceptions among his 21 passes broken up, turning some of those deflections into turnovers would be a quick way to boost his draft stock.
Other Utah prospects worth watching:
S Brian Blechen, Senior (6-2 | 215 | 4.60 | #4)
Blechen missed the entire 2013 season with knee tendinitis, which will obviously warrant investigation from any NFL team looking to add him to their roster. He is an instinctive, physical defender who has shown a knack for making big plays throughout his career, notching eight interceptions and six forced fumbles in 35 career starts. Blechen was recruited as a quarterback but his blue-collar style and grit earned him a spot on defense and he won the strong safety role in his first week of practice. Blechen has 'tweener traits but has been too productive for too long to ignore.
OL Jeremiah Poutasi, Junior (6-5 | 345 | 5.29 | #73)
Poutasi spent his first two seasons at Utah playing tackle, first at the blindside as a freshman before moving to the right side last year. The Utes are considering him at his natural position of guard in 2014. Poutasi has struggled with his weight (he's reportedly down to 330 now) but is surprisingly quick and light on his feet. He does not possess ideal flexibility or length and struggles a bit with leverage but could emerge as a draftable commodity if he takes to the new role.