NFL Draft 2014 Primer: Scouting Pac-12
Though the NFL draft is still months away, the college football season looms just around the corner. So, with that in mind, Audibles is taking a look at one intriguing draft prospect from each FBS team. Read the previous posts here.
The Pac-12 had five players — from four different schools — selected in Round 1 of the 2013 draft. The conference might raise the bar in 2014.
USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, a junior, currently stands as the top potential draft prospect at his position. Arguably the same can be said for UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr. Add in Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Arizona State DT Will Sutton, Arizona RB Ka’Deem Carey and possibly multiple players off Stanford’s ferocious defense, and the talent base is extremely deep here.
Which other Pac-12 stars might hear their names called in early May 2014? Here’s a look at a few:
Arizona: Marquis Flowers, OLB.
The 6-foot-3, 229-pound Flowers is another in the growing list of talented defenders who made the transition from safety to linebacker. There were multiple examples in this year’s draft, including Alec Ogletree and Khaseem Greene. Flowers, off a 100-tackle season, should join them if he follows up with another strong 2013.
He fits the prototype of what you’d expect for a player jumping from safety to linebacker — Flowers’ technique certainly needs work, but he has the athleticism to make up for a lot of his shortcomings.
Arizona State: Marion Grice, RB.
All Grice does is score touchdowns. OK, maybe that’s not all he does, but the former Blinn Community College star found the end zone on 19 of his 144 touches last season — a ridiculous 13.2 percent success rate. Eight of those scores came on Grice’s 41 catches out of the backfield, and he might be even more dangerous as a pass-catcher than a runner at the next level.
And that’s not a knock against his running ability, either. Grice averaged 6.6 yards per carry in Arizona State’s spread attack last season. He is not particularly large (6-0, 207) or spectacularly fast, but Grice can find a hole and get through it to the second level in a hurry.
California: DeAndre Coleman, DT.
This will be an important season for Coleman, who showed he could produce stats as an end in Cal’s old 3-4 and now will get a shot to drop down inside to tackle in a new 4-3. He has the size — 6-3 and 315 — for either spot, though his skill set probably profiles more accurately as a tackle. He did come up with three sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss off the edge last season. Expect those numbers to rise in 2013.
Colorado: Gus Handler, C.
Handler (6-3, 290) has been a two-year starter at center for Colorado, though his 2012 season was an injury plagued one. He has been an off-and-on player in the middle of Colorado’s line — he holds his own, for the most part, but certain matchups, especially against physical interior linemen, have proven to be a little troublesome. The Buffaloes are implementing a new offense this season, under new head coach Mike MacIntyre, which relies heavily on the shotgun. Handler’s duties will be different in that attack, so the NFL will wait to see how he responds.
Oregon: Colt Lyerla, TE.
Will Lyerla, about to enter his junior season, make the early leap into next year’s draft? How he performs in 2013 no doubt will play a factor in his decision-making process. One way or another, he’s going to wind up in the NFL, as a versatile, H-back type player, who can run, catch or block in any offense. Lyerla has done all three for Oregon, finishing last season with 25 receptions and 13 rush attempts, while spending most of his time as an in-line blocker.
The tricky thing for NFL scouts is how to project the 6-5, 246-pound talent. Oregon has not taken full advantage of him thus far, though QB Marcus Mariota (a 2013 early-entry possibility himself) could look for Lyerla more this year.
Oregon State: Rashaad Reynolds, CB.
Jordan Poyer was the Beavers’ de facto No. 1 cornerback last season, prior to being selected in Round 7 by Philadelphia. Here’s a little secret: Reynolds might be a better cover man. The 5-11, 187-pound senior picked off three passes and knocked down 16 last season while playing in Oregon State’s mostly man-coverage defense. He also finished second on the team in tackles with 75.
Reynolds had no problems sticking with even the best receivers he faced last season, thanks in no small part to his top-flight speed (Reynolds runs the 60-meter-dash for Oregon State’s track team). With Poyer off to the NFL, Reynolds will be asked to do even more in the Beavers’ secondary. He should prove up to the task.
Stanford: David Yankey, G.
A 6-5, 313-pound smash-mouth blocker, Yankey will slide to guard for Stanford this season, where he played as a sophomore before moving out to tackle. The consensus seems to be that he’s better suited to play guard at the next level, too, due to some issues dropping into pass protection on the edge.
He could be a sensational interior lineman for whichever NFL teams lands him. Yankey can overpower opponents, especially when it comes to the run game, and he’s more than capable of getting out front as a pulling blocker. That he has shown himself to be versatile and willing to move positions for the team will add to his luster come the draft.
UCLA: Shaquelle Evans, WR.
Evans’ stock probably will be higher once 2014 hits. He did some of his best work for the Bruins toward the end of last season, as QB Brett Hundley (along with Mariota, a potential 2014 draft pick) came into his own. Evans, a 6-1 transfer from Notre Dame, finished 2012 with 60 catches for 877 yards. He possesses good size but still can get deep, as he did on a long TD vs. Oregon State. Evans remains a work in progress, though, and he needs to be a more consistent force this coming season.
USC: Morgan Breslin, OLB/DE.
Breslin made the move from junior college to USC last season, and he made an immediate impact with 19 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks out of a defensive end spot. He will play outside linebacker in 2013, but he ultimately falls into that middle ground between DE and OLB. His size (6-2, 250) lends itself more to a linebacking spot, as does his ability to chase plays down and get to the quarterback.
That said, a 265- or 270-pound Breslin might be able to hold his own on the edge a little more firmly. So, NFL scouts will try to figure out if he is capable of adding weight without sacrificing his speed. If not, he’ll probably be tucked into that OLB role, either in a 3-4 or 4-3.
Utah: Tenny Palepoi, DT.
All Palepoi has to do this season is try to replace Star Lotulelei on the Utes’ defensive line. Good luck. Palepoi, a 6-2, 300-pound junior college product, did have 21 tackles and a pair of sacks as a backup last season. He showed off some impressive strength in those small bursts, too, which will come in handy as a starter. How well he holds up in 2013, both as a full-time player and in the face of those Lotulelei comparisons, will go a long way toward determining his potential as a draft pick.
Washington: Keith Price, QB.
What happened to Price last season? His statistics dropped across the board and now he enters his final year in Seattle trying to get himself back on track. The 2011 tape shows off why Price could be of interest to NFL teams — he’s athletic and flashes the ability to make passes to all areas of the field.
In 2012, though, he was a wreck. Helped little by a shaky offensive line and so-so group of receivers, Price regressed, missing makeable throws and appearing flustered constantly in the pocket. His size (6-1) drops him into that Russell Wilson-esque category where teams worry about it until he proves them wrong. He did not do that in his redshirt junior campaign.
Washington State: Deone Bucannon, S.
Bucannon was like an orchestra member on the Titanic last season — a bright spot on a mess of a unit. He led the team with four interceptions and 106 tackles, the most by a Cougar since 2006. Listed at 6-1, 198 pounds, Bucannon is a center fielder-type safety for Washington State, but (as his tackle numbers imply) he’s quick to get down into the box and provide some run support. He still needs to improve as a form tackler before getting to the NFL.
Bucannon also carries the reputation of being a bit reckless. He served a one-half suspension against UNLV last season after a vicious hit on Eastern Washington’s Greg Herd, then quickly picked up a personal foul penalty upon returning to action.