First off, let me get the Clemson players out of the way.
TE Dwayne Allen could be really special if he comes out this year. He has good speed (I'd estimate in the 4.6-4.7 range), big, strong hands, good length and ball skills, and athleticism. He's not a great blocker, but he shows enough ability there that he can get better with development, and could potentially develop into one of the better two-way tight ends in the league. I think he has just as much potential to be one of those elite TEs like Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Vernon Davis, Tony Gonzalez, or Kellen Winslow. In the right scheme, he could be deadly because he can create huge matchup problems over the middle of the field with his ability to separate and make plays downfield.
RB Andre Ellington is quick and explosive, but in both Clemson games I've seen this year (vs. UNC & VA Tech), he has had minimal production. I recall his play 2 years ago when he split time with C.J. Spiller. Because of his speed/burst and ability make guys miss, I think he has good potential as a change of pace back, but lacks the size, durability, and toughness to be more than that. He'll be able to get 5-8 touches at the next level in the right offense but that's about it.
DT Brandon Thompson is a talented DT, that has the burst you like to see in a 4-3 3-technique, but he's pretty straight line and just hasn't quite mastered how to use his hands to get leverage or to disengage from blockers. He can be effective both as a 1-technique NT or 3-technique UT, but I haven't really seen the consistency or dominance to make me think he's going to be a lot more than a really good No. 2 DT at the next level like a Brodrick Bunkley or Fred Robbins. Besides another good DT, he can be very production. But on his own, he'll be fairly average. But he can stop the run and rush the QB, so he'll have value as an everydown defender.
Okay, now let's talk UNC prospects…
I was pretty underwhelmed early in the year with Quinton Coples. His motor ran hot and cold, and while he was productive, he didn't dominate like a player with his athleticism should. But vs. Clemson and VA Tech, I started to see that potential come to the surface. His questionable motor still worries me, but he played with much more effort vs. Tech that I had probably seen in 2 or 3 previously combined games. There is more Mario Williams to his game than Julius Peppers. He seems much more comfortable playing on the edge, so a 4-3 might be his best fit. But he does have the ability and potential to play in a 3-4 (watching him last year at DT, that was what I thought was his best fit). The thing you like about Coples is that he doesn't blow you away with his speed or first step, but it's definitely good enough to set up the OT. His problem is that he hasn't quite developed a good counter move or the technique to consistently win once the OT has been set up. At times he showed the ability to slap down the OTs hands and turn the corner. He also made a nice bull rush vs. Tech as well. By my count, he combined for 6 pressures, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 PD, 1 QB hit, and 2.5 tackles for loss vs. Tech and Clemson. That's the sort of production you want to see in a player of his caliber.
But again, the motor is concerning, because he doesn't play with fire, and you worry that there is also some potential that he turns into another Vernon Gholston or at least takes the better part of 3-4 years before you really see his game develop at the next level. He's a boom/bust prospect that is a risky pick as a Top 5-10 guy, but in the middle of the first, I'll definitely roll the dice on a player with his talent.
The more I see DT Tydreke Powell the less I like him. I wasn't a big fan of his last year, but he showed some burst and quickness to his game earlier this year. But these two games, I saw very little. He looks like he can add depth as a space-eater that can occupy blocks, but doesn't do a good job getting upfield and disrupting the run and plays too high to get good leverage and get off blocks at the point of attack. For a 4-3 team like the Falcons, the best you can hope for is another Vance Walker.
Widetrak, you wondered why there is hype around OLB Zach Brown, well it's because of his athletic ability and speed. He flashes the same fluidity, speed, and range that made Sean Weatherspoon a high pick. And like Weatherspoon, his potential in coverage is off the charts. He's an ideal fit for a 4-3 team at the WILL that is looking for a guy that can cover, with the sort of potential that you could put him against slot receivers and he would not be completely outmatched. The problem with Brown is that he's not that physical. He'll run around and deliver hits, but he's tentative when it comes to taking blocks at the point of attack. At least with Spoon, while he was underwhelming at the point at Missouri due to his lack of size, it wasn't because of he played "soft" like Brown sort of does. THe other thing is that Brown is not a particularly good tackler. He is a drag-down tackler that doesn't really have any pop or consistency to win there. So while he has the same sort of potential to be an impact defender due to his athleticism as a Lance Briggs or Spoon, his physicality is far less than theirs. Maybe that develops at the next level, but I doubt it. So I don't think he can be a reliable run defender, so there is as much potential if not more he's the next Ernie Sims rather than Spoon/Briggs.
His teammate ILB Kevin Reddick is a little better. He's more physical, but he doesn't have the ideal instincts or nose for the ball you want in a top 4-3 MLB. But because he's got good size, strength, speed, quickness, he should be a solid starter at the next level, just may never be an elite starter. But he's one of those players that if you surround him with talent, put beef in front of him that will allow him to run and hit and flow to the ball, or play him beside a good 3-4 ILB, then he can be a very productive complementary starter sort of like Navorro Bowman has been in San Fran beside Patrick Willis.
UNC WR Dwight Jones has immense talent, arguably just as much if not more than guys like Greg Little and Hakeem Nicks. His size, length, and strength are outstanding at 6-4/225. He probably has average speed (4.5) and won't be a guy that will separate against top corners, but with his size he won't really need to. Problem was vs. Tech he let too many passes get into his body, which allowed Jayron Hosley to close and break them up. I also didn't like the fact that he was very lazy as a run blocker and at times as a route-runner. Because of his size, he can be a good run blocker, but he showed minimal effort trying to block his assignments. To me there is no stronger an indicator of questionable work ethic in a big receiver by looking at his run blocking. It was why Jonathan Baldwin had serious character red flags this past April, and I think it's why Jones may have the exact same. I think Jones should be able to overcome this and still be a good No. 2 starter, and I think he'll offer No. 1 potential for many teams with the ability to flash Anquan Boldin-esque ability, but I see all the red flags that while he can be a playmaker at the next level, he'll probably never develop the sort of consistency to be a reliable go-to option for most teams.
UNC junior LG Jonathan Cooper really impressed me in both games. He had no problems blocking Brandon Thompson vs. Clemson, and did an excellent job vs. Virginia Tech. Cooper reminds me a lot of a player like Ben Grubbs with similar size (6-3/310) and athleticism. Earlier in the year, Cooper looked a bit too raw for my tastes, but he's coming into his own. He's a very good short-area player that has good knee bend, feet, and athleticism. He's not quite Mike Pouncey when you get him out in space, but there's similar ability there. The biggest obstacle for Cooper will be his hands and technique. He doesn't always show ideal placement and ability to lock on there. But you'll see flashes of that, and if his coaches at the next level can refine him and make him more consistent in those areas, he has the potential to be one of the best guards in the NFL.
Okay, now for the Hokies…
To be honest, David Wilson did not impress me in either of these guys. I'm starting to see him again more as a Felix Jones-esque No. 2 than the next Ahmad Bradshaw. I think part of the problem was that Tech's O-line was underwhelming in both games vs. UNC and UVA in getting push up front, particularly against UNC. But he seemed like a guy in both games that isn't that comfortable running between the tackles. His tendency to dance and bounce plays outside is exciting because he's got homerun potential every time he touches the ball, but it leads to too many losses of yardage. And thus, I'm more skeptical than ever whether he can be a lead back in an NFL offense.
Ball security plays heavily into that, as he's fumbled 4 times in the 4 games I've watched this year, with only the UVA game being the only one he didn't fumble in.
His footwork also needs to improve. And this is something that sometimes does like it did with Rashard Mendenhall which is a big reason why I think he's developed into the runner he is today, but not always. He has to stop/slow his feet too much to change direction, and he gets away with that so often because he's so fast, but that won't work in the NFL where defenders are bigger/faster and more disciplined.
Both of these issues are correctable at the next level, but if I'm an NFL team, I'm not going to draft him hoping he can be my lead back. Instead, I have to be prepared that he may only be as good as Jones, Jahvid Best, or Pierre Thomas that is excellent in small doses, but not reliable enough to hold up for 16 games.
Logan Thomas flashes ability. You'll see a couple of throws each game that make you excited about his potential, but he's still a ways away. I think he's more Josh Freeman than Cam Newton in terms of his athleticism and willingness to run. Like Freeman, he seems to be more willing to stay in the pocket. But both of those guys are better vertical passers than he is right now. Thomas puts too much air under his throws and hasn't really honed his touch/timing on the vertical throws yet despite having an arm potentially on par with those guys. The other issue he'll have to work on is his mechanics and footwork. Right now he's a little too deliberate in his mechanics, which he'll need to speed up. He doesn't do a good job setting his feet or stepping into many of his throws which leads to passes sailing on him. What he is very good at is the short, quick passing on the outside. But I saw very little throws in these two games where he went over the middle. He flashes anticipation, but particularly early vs. UNC, he was late on a lot of throws, and again that's because he's deliberate with his mechanics, and may not necessarily be because of his some mental deficiency.
But the thing I do like about him the most is his potential for accuracy. It's not there yet, but you'll see several throws on the comebacks, curls, and outs where he puts the ball away from the defender and throws his receivers open in that sense. He made a great throw to Boykin over the middle while on the move vs. UVA.
Tech has simplified the game for him with his reads and throws, which is good at this stage. One of the issues I had with Tyrod Taylor is that I thought Tech's coaches didn't do a great job getting him out of the one-read and then tuck it and run mentality. It'll be interesting to see what progress (if any) Thomas makes with that going forward.
WR Jarrett Boykin is a player I like, but I think he'll be hard-pressed to be a starter in the majority of NFL schemes. He has good size (6-2/220), is physical, and has nice ball skills and hands, but he doesn't have the speed/burst to separate from the majority of starting NFL corners and thus won't be much of a playmaker at the next level. What I like the most about Boykin is his run-blocking. He's very good there. And I think like a Michael Jenkins, on a team that loves to run the ball, he might get by as a starter because he can help move the chains on 3rd downs and also block on 1st and 2nd down. But in most offenses, he'll be a No. 3 or No. 4 option sort of like what Brian Finneran was for us the past few years. By my count, he was targeted some 22 times in those two games, catching 14 of those passes (64% catch rate) for 150 yards (10.7 avg) with 68 yards of YAC, 1 touchdown, but also had 5 drops. It's worth noting with the YAC, that when you subtract it from his total yards, on average that meant his catches were 6 yards from the line of scrimmage. And this is going ot be an issue because of Tech's offense to make easier throws for Thomas, it gave Boykin very limited opportunities to run intermediate/vertical routes and show if he can separate.
I was impressed by the fact that WR Danny Coale served as a punter vs. UVA. He has a good leg (reliably kicks 40-50 yards) and got good hangtime. He punted better in that game than I've seen in a couple of full-time punters on other teams this year. I don't know whether that really helps his chances to make an NFL roster, but it won't hurt. As a WR, he's limited. He's got nice size (6-0/195) with nice speed (est. 4.5?) but his hands and ball skills are pretty average and there's nothing special about his offensive potential. I also think he can play a little soft, ducking out of bounds and avoiding contact when he has the ball in his hands. Really, just a No. 5 option on most NFL teams that offers less potential as a slot receiver than Eric Weems. Like Weems, his ability to play on ST will be his ticket to playing in the pros. Being able to punt certainly doesn't hurt that, but he'll likely have to showcase that he can cover and return kicks to have his best shot.
Still unimpressed with OT Blake DeChristopher. His pop and strength as a run blocker is very limited, especially the minute you put him in a three-point stance which he'll probably see 90-95% of his reps in the NFL at. He has decent feet, athleticism, size, and arm length, but there is nothign about his game that stands out. He doesn't get push, can't consistently lock on, and got destroyed by Coples the few times he faced him vs. UNC. Like I said before, he'll have to stick as a reserve guard in a zone-blocking scheme because he just doesn't have the size, strength, or ability to do much in a man-blocking scheme that will require him to push the pile. I do like his mean streak, that is the only thing that stands out. And there are times where I'll see him use his hands well on the edge to slap away those of the DE on a power move, but it's far too few and far between. So if he can sit a few years on the bench, polish his game, there's a chance he turns into a poor man's Harvey Dahl down the road as an effective stopgap starter for a zone-blocking team, sort of like Mike Brisiel for the Texans.
RG Jaymes Brooks is better, but he'll too be limited at the next level because he doesn't have great arm length or size and is only really effective in a short-area. He plays with much better pop than DeChristopher, which makes him a more effective run blocker and is OK when it comes to getting out in space, pulling and blocking on the second level, but his footwork, technique, and hands are just too inconsistent to think he overcomes his size deficiencies. I think he might be a player that has to show he can play center in the pros to really stick long-term. I think he can add depth, but he too will be limited as a starter.
Jayron Hosley is becoming less impressive with each viewing. He does a nice job keeping things in front of him, and you like his closing speed on the ball. But vs. UNC & UVA, he gave up 8 receptions on 13 targets (61.5%) for 107 yards (8.2 YPA). He won't give up the big play, but he gives up a lot of underneath stuff because he plays with too much cushion and IMO probably trusts his athleticism too much (this was the same with DeAngelo Hall when he was at Tech). I like his ball skills when the play is in front of him, but when he turns his back to the QB and ball, he struggles turning and locating the ball in the air. He's also a really bad tackler that almost never sees what he hits. He rarely wraps up, but because of his good closing burst on the ball he is able to make stops. But he missed a combined 4 tackles in those two games, 3 of which came trying to cut the legs of Dwight Jones vs. UNC. Hosley has potential to match up with No. 1 WRs from an athletic standpoint, but his inconsistency and lack of attention to detail again makes me think he'll be like Hall in that one week he'll do well vs. the opponent's No. 1 and contain him, and then the next week he'll give up 150 yards. Like Hall, he seems like the type that will make big plays, but be just as prone (if not more so) to give them up as well. That's fine if you have a solid No. 1 corner across from him, but if he's your top corner you may be in trouble. He seems to have that same flashy swagger as Hall, and while confidence is key for an NFL corner, his borders a bit on cockiness, which isn't good because it means he might not be a worker. So because of all this, if he lives up to his potential, he's probably the next Asante Samuel. If he doesn't, he's the next Hall. Either way, he can be a nice starting corner but he might create a TON of headaches along the way.
FS Eddie Whitley is probably the polar opposite of Hosley. He's a hard-nosed, tough player that plays hard, but he's just not very gifted. He's undersized safety (6-0/190) and it shows in run support. He wraps up unlike Hosley, but he doesn't have the size or strength to tackle even a smaller RB like UNC's Giovanni Bernard (5-10/205) in the open field reliably. But Whitley is functional in coverage, although his hips/burst aren't good enough to make plays vs. the slot receiver in man, he usually doesn't give them up. Although he almost cost Tech the game vs. UNC because he got caught looking in the backfield and let the slot WR get behind him on a big gain in the 4th quarter. But thankfully for him that was really the only play he gave up. If he can bulk up some more, that ability in coverage makes me think he can impress enough to earn a backup role, but his true value will be on special teams, which I have little doubt he can perform on. But really all you're hoping for is that in time he develops into a poor man's Thomas DeCoud.
Okay, for UVA to finish out…
Actually I like CB Chase Minnifield. He only gave up 1 play vs. Tech, which was a jump ball to Davis at the beginning of the game where he grabbed him for the interference call and did a poor job turning to locate the ball in the air. But I liked the fact that he was able to knock a big WR like Davis (6-4/225) off his route in press coverage. Minnfield also is experienced playing the slot. He's got that tall, long frame (6-0/190) with long arms and flashes potential to be a ballhawk. He got a 2nd PI penalty vs. Tech, but I thought it was an excellent play where he undercut an in route to Boykin down the field. Problem was there was too much contact on the play, but that type of play there is what I'm talking about with his ballhawk potential. He's a little underwhelming in run support, but he's not soft, just probably is limited because he's so long and lean. I don't think he'll be a top NFL corner, but I think he has enough tools and potential to be a No. 1 corner in press man schemes that aren't afraid to leave their corners on the island. He's exactly the type of corner that I think a guy like Rex Ryan envisions playing in the slot in his defense. I would compare him to somewhat like a Devin McCourty in terms of how good an NFL player he can be, although McCourty is not a great press corner. But he's the type of player that is ideally a No. 2, but has enough ability that he can compete with the top NFL wideouts, although he probably won't shut them down by any means.
The Tech game was the first time I got to see UVA LT Oday Aboushi, who is a junior. Aboushi definitely looks the part of being an NFL left tackle at 6-6/310 with pretty good arm length, good but not great feet, and pretty good technique there. His problem is two-fold: (1) he doesn't use his hands very well and (2) He has almost no mean streak/violence to his game. Those two issues are of course linked. But while he'll set up at times with his hands high and tight, he doesn't initiate contact and his punch on the edge is very weak. His mean streak really doesn't exist and he seems like a guy that has no desire to really control a defender or dominate. This was the exact same problem I had with Eugene Monroe coming out of UVA 3 years ago. And Monroe struggled his first two years in the pros, although he's seemingly starting to come around now. But it worries me that Aboushi has probably maxed out his potential already because I believe mean streak is the strongest indicator that an O-linemen will improve on the next level. Other than his punch, there is really nothing technically wrong with his game. As a run blocker, he bends his knees well and knows how to get his hands inside to get leverage, and will drive the legs to move the defender off the ball. But because of his lack of mean streak, there is very little pop to his game, and he seems more content to get position than a guy that really wants to move the pile. As a Wahoo blocker, you know he's intelligent, and well-coached but I just don't see the "it" factor that makes him into more than an average NFL starter. If he shows no improvement from this point on, he's really not going to be any better a pro than Sam Baker is right now. I mean is it a coincidence that the past few UVA tackles: Monroe, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and Branden Albert have had sluggish starts to their NFL careers?
DE/OLB Cam Johnson flashes potential as an edge rusher and will occasionally show the bend to turn the corner, but he seems very one-note. He's listed at 6-3/270, but he looks a little closer to 260. I think he's probably a better fit as a 3-4 OLB that has good potential to develop as a pass rusher, but probably more of the guy that plays the Anthony Spencer role than the next DeMarcus Ware.
Matt Conrath has good size (6-7/275) and plays inside in UVA's 4-3 attack, after being recruited as a 3-4 DE by Al Groh. I see flashes of ability from Conrath. When he uses his hands to get leverage and tries to stack and shed like a 3-4 DE should, he does a pretty good job. He has a decent first step that can get penetration, but too often tries to use his shoulder to get leverage, which allowed guards like Jaymes Brooks to get their hands on him, redirect or knock him to the ground. He just spent too much time on the ground vs. Tech and is a guy that will probably need to add another 15-20 pounds of muscle so that he can help out a 3-4 rotation.
"Vincere scis, Hannibal, victoria uti nescis" -- Maharbal, 216 B.C.E.