In this series of articles we at BBD will look ahead to the 2011 season and give you the three best games to watch for each of our top 10 ranked prospects in order to evaluate their talents. We start with the glamour position of being the QB.
Some of these kids are going to get drafted next April and asked to be a franchise savior, can they do it? We don’t know yet, but seeing them in the games listed below will give you a pretty good read on it.
1. Ryan Tannehill-Texas A&M
6’4, 220 lbs.
10/1 v. Arkansas in Arlington, TX
This will be the first real test Tannehill will see in his first season as an unchallenged starter. Put into the starting role after Jerrod Johnson faltered in 2010, Tannehill went on a tear to end last season culminating in a terrific bowl game v. LSU. Against Arkansas he’s going to face a very aggressive and veteran savvy defense that has talent at all three levels.
It all starts on the line with Senior DE Jake Bequette leading the way. With two bookend sophomore tackles going up against Bequette you have to think the resourceful and SEC tested Bequette has the early advantage but if Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews can give Tannehill time then he could work to expose an Arkansas defensive backfield that is replacing half of its starters.
The most important player to that Arkansas defensive backfield however returns this year in the unheralded FS Tramain Thomas. The senior whose name many of you will come to know next April (and is listed as part of our Sleeping Seniors series) led the Razorbacks in interceptions with four and excels at reading the QB’s eyes while playing CF.
Finally the leader and spark plug of this defense will once again be middle linebacker Jerry Franklin.The 6’1, 245lbs LB is a threat both when dropping into pass coverage, or when blitzing the passer. He will have to constantly be account for if the Aggies are going to have much success in this out of conference battle.
10/29 v. Missouri
This is the game you want to see Tannehill shine in. Missouri is coming off a season where they ranked 37th nationally in pass defense giving up an average of 203.46 yards per game. However Missouri has to replace 3 of their starting 4 defensive backs with only SS Kenji Jackson returning.
That’s not to say the replacements aren’t without talent, CB Kip Edwards is a big bodied CB who saw extensive time last year with the Missouri defense and responded well getting 6 PBU and 1 INT. However beyond Edwards are too rather raw true Sophomore defensive backs who you would expect Tannehill to target and attack.
Missouri’s feared pass rusher (Aldon Smith) is gone to the NFL but his replacement, Colin Madison, actually out preformed him last year putting up 7.5 sacks to lead the Tigers. There are questions about his ability to replicate those numbers given the increased focus on stopping him this year.
11/24 v. Texas
Scouting wise I love rivalry games, nothing means more in many players careers then the opportunity to preform when the stakes are at their highest. When it comes to Texas v. Texas A&M there are few other games that are even close to comparable. This was a game that Tannehill was just average in last year going, 14 of 30 for 128 yards, and 1 TD . This year with a younger and arguably more athletic Texas defense this may only get rougher.
Three seniors will lead this Texas defense starting up front with DT Kheeston Randall. A highly thought of NFL prospect, he is probably one of the strongest players in the nation and excels at controlling the line of scrimmage and taking on multiple blocks. While he may not be much a pass rush himself, his ability to collapse the pocket requires extra attention and allows for LB Emmanuel Acho to be dangerous from his MLB position.
Next to Acho is Texas’s defensive rock in Keenean Robinson the athletic 6’3, 235 lbs LB springs to life as soon as the ball is snapped and is like a dart when he is attacking the line of scrimmage. Blessed with great speed to match his size Robinson is a player who is an issue both while in pass coverage (2 INT in 2010) or when on the pass rush (2 sacks, 6 TFL in 2010).
Behind him is the ever steady veteran at safety in Blake Gideon. Gideon is the backbone of the defense working hard to ensure that the defensive backfield is constantly in the correct position and is seen as a leader.
2. Kirk Cousins-Michigan State
6’3, 205 lbs.
9/17 @ Notre Dame
Cousins first test will come very early in the season as the Spartans travel to South Bend to take on the Irish. This game has proven to be a close one as three of the last five, including the most recent two that have been decided by three points. Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense will give Cousins an NFL style look to play against and though its not as talented as some, its young and hungry.
Notre Dame is going to be replacing three of their top four DB’s that helped Notre Dame rank 54th nationally in pass defense giving up 215.08 yards per game. Can Cousins exploit an inexperience Irish defense early or will Notre Dame’s new found youth and athleticism find a way to pressure and harass Cousins?
10/1 @ Ohio State
This will be final game for the suspended Buckeyes but that shouldn’t make much a difference when Cousins comes to town. Cousins will be far more concerned with attacking a defense that only returns three starters but is loaded with high potential players who have been waiting for their shot.
The main fear for Cousins may come in the form of Junior CB Travis Howard who in 10 games last year picked off two passes and got his hands on four others. He has great size and could be primed for a breakout season.
Cousins will also need to be wary of DE Nathan Williams, the senior whose 4.5 sacks led the Buckeyes last year is back and is looking to have an even bigger year. At 6’3, 260 he’s a handful at the line and will be a constant presence in Cousins backfield.
10/29 @ Nebraska
Last years 5th ranked pass defense returns 7 starters including CB Alonzo Dennard who is considered by many to be one of the top, if not the top, CB’s in the country. Gone however is All-American CB Prince Amukamara who was a big part of Dennard’s breakout campaign in 2010.
Another key piece to Dennard’s success last year and continued success this year is the man in the middle in DT Jared Crick. Likely to be one of the top picks next April, Crick picked up right where Suh left off for the Cornhuskers. His consistent pressure up the middle combined with Lavonte David’s ability to both blitz and drop into coverage provide Nebraska with three levels of defense that could rival almost anybody in the country.
3. QB Nick Foles-Arizona
6’5, 240 lbs.
9/8 @ Oklahoma State
The biggest concern for Foles is that people want to see him have a dominant performance against a decent team. We want to see him show off his arm a little, we want to see him take control and have the big game in a big situation. This early match in Stillwater sets up for that, Arizona will be a likely underdog coming in and will have a shot to grab an upset and make a statement.
Oklahoma State ranked 115th nationally against the pass giving up 285.85 yard per game. They return only five starters from last years defense, though three of those starters are in the defensive backfield. Foles should have time make his reads and deliver good passes. We know Oklahoma State is going to score, the question is can Foles keep up?
9/17 v. Stanford
The biggest match-up and comparison game for Foles all season will be when he goes to head to head v. Andrew Luck. Luck is the unquestioned top QB and is the model for the what you look for in a prospect. Stanford’s 3-4 front will give scouts a good view of how Foles handles the defense that 14 NFL teams currently run.
Stanford should be able to bring plenty of pressure from a variety of angles with returning LB’s Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas. Combined the two accounted for 15 sacks and 154 tackles last year. In the defensive backfield Richard Sherman must be replaced but Delano Howell is returning at SS and is coming off a career year. Foles will need to make quick decisions and do a good job of reading the defense pre-snap.
10/1 @ USC
USC is down without a doubt but that doesn’t make this game any smaller in terms of what it means to Foles development. Last year Foles tore up a rather inexperienced Trojan defense. He was 32 of 48 for 353 yards and 3 TD’s in a losing effort. He continually exploited USC CB’s who could not keep up with the Arizona WR’s. He showed great anticipation and touch on his throws as he methodically worked his team down the field and into scoring position.
A year later this USC team is looking to be bigger and badder, they return 7 starters including DE Nick Perry, LB Devon Kennard and FS TJ McDonald. McDonald is the player to watch on this defense as he has an incredible combination of size and speed and reminds many of another former Trojan S in Taylor Mays. Can Foles repeat his 2010 dominance or will Troy rise again?
4. GJ Kinne-Tulsa
9/3 @ Oklahoma
Nothing like opening up the year on the road in hostile Norman, playing your in-state rivals. Oklahoma is almost unanimously considered to be one of the top if not the top team in the country this year. They are coming off being ranked the 51st in pass defense last year and feature dynamic playmakers at all three levels of the defense. The main concern for Kinne will be up front where he has to hope that All-Conference LT Tyler Holmes can hold off DE Frank Alexander.
Getting beyond Alexander though won’t be any fun either as LB Travis Lewis waits in the middle. An accomplished coverage LB, Lewis has 8 career INT’s and does a good job in his drop of watching the QB’s eyes and breaking on the ball. Kinne will need to make sure he looks him off and locates him pre-snap.
The other player to watch will be rising junior CB Jamell Fleming. Fleming was inserted into the starting lineup last season and responded by producing 5 INT’s and becoming Oklahoma’s top option in locking down an opposing teams #1 WR. Expect him to be put one on one with Damaris Johnnson.
11/3 @ UCF
The defending C-USA champs will host the Golden Hurricanes in early November and this could be a pivotal inter-conference game in deciding who will go to the C-USA title game just one month later. UCF was far away the best defense in the league last year, but they return only 4 starters. Gone is the heart and soul of the Golden Knight defense in DE Bruce Miller but UCF does bring back two DE’s who can get after the QB. Troy Davis and Darius Nall combined for 14 sacks, and 23 QB hurries last season. They also have extremely active hands and do a good job batting down passes (9 pass deflections combined).
Behind them may be the most lock-down CB in the entire conference in junior Josh Robinson. Robinson saw his numbers drop drastically last season but that’s not because he had a bad year, but rather because nobody was willing to throw at him after he picked off 6 passes as a true freshman. Robinson did manage to grab 2 INT’s last year to go along with 13 pass deflections. Kinne is going to have to be surgically accurate if he hopes to beat Robinson.
11/26 v. Houston
It may all come down to the final week of the season for Tulsa as they play host to Houston. Houston is considered the western division favorite this year with the return of Case Keenum, so if Kinne is going to lead Tulsa to the title game he’s going to need to out duel the most prolific passer in the conference. This could be the game to watch this season in the C-USA as neither team is going to be a defensive juggernaut and both are loaded with talented playmakers.
Defensively Kinne needs to be aware of where LB Sammy Brown is at all times. The senior was a dominant force last year coming out of JUCO and provided constant pressure while picking up 7.5 sacks. The other player to watch for is another LB in Phillip Steward. Steward really excels in this 3-4 front at dropping into zone coverage and reading QB’s eyes. His 2 INT’s and 7 pass deflections last year are a testament to his pass coverage ability. If Kinne is able to avoid Brown and stay upright he should able to have a big day and put on a show for the scouts.
5. BJ Coleman-Tennessee-Chattanooga
9/3 @ Nebraska
Like many FCS teams week one means a payday and an away game against a FBS school. For BJ Coleman and his Mocs that means traveling to Lincoln to take on new Big 10 member Nebraska. This will be a great game to evaluate Coleman due to the caliber of defense he will go up against. Keep in mind the numbers he put up last season when he played the eventual National Champion Auburn Tigers. In that game Coleman went 20 of 39 for 210 yards and a touchdown and was the only consistent weapon for the Mocs on that day.
The key to this game will be keeping Coleman upright for the Mocs especially with big Jared Crick in the middle. Crick who will be far and away the most talented player on the field in this game, could put career numbers and start his season off with a bang. If the Mocs can somehow block Crick this will give Coleman the time to make his reads and deliver accurate throws. The Mocs don’t have much of a chance to win this game but if Coleman can once again show he can play with the big boys then his stock will continue to rise.
9/24 v. Appalachian State
Last year Chattanooga opened the season in Boone at Appalachian State and it was a game that first put Coleman on the map. His methodical progression in moving his team down the field was nearly unstoppable and he ended the game going 23 of 37 for 340 yards and 3 TD’s. This year a very different App State team visits the Choo-Choo city but that doesn’t mean they won’t be as dangerous. Top playmakers Mark LeGree, Jabari Fletcher, and DJ Smith are all gone.
However behind them are a new set of players that are ready to take over the reigns and make plays. Starting up front, DE John Rizor may have not have the same skill set and gifted athleticism that Fletcher had but he brings a non-stop motor and has really developed as a pass rusher. He will need to take his game to the next level though this year.
CB Ed Gainey and FS Dominique McDuffie are going to be key to shutting down Coleman’s favorite target in WR Joel Bradford. The two may have combined for only 5 INT’s last season but provided very good coverage all season long and gave many QB’s fits. They along with Rizor will need to step up in an effort to fill the void left. Coleman had a huge game against an arguably more talented App State defense, and I expect him to do it again this year.
11/1 v. Wofford
Another big time inter-conference match-up will have Wofford coming to town to play the Mocs at Findlay Field. The name that will most worry Coleman has to be DE Amett Pall, a hulking DE who was dominant last year putting up 12.5 sacks, and 22.5 TFL. He will come into this game with extra motivation as last year he had one of his poorest performances against Coleman and Co. as he was credited with only 1.5 tackles in the game and was held in check.
That was one of only two games all season where Pall failed to make a play in the backfield of some kind. Wofford’s defense is predicated upon applying the pressure to the QB, especially after the graduation of SS Tommy Irvin. If Coleman can get time he will pick Wofford apart. This could be a big game for him.
What are your thoughts? Did I miss a big game? Who will flourish and who will fail? Please leave a comment below or follow us on Twitter @BillsDraft
Also make sure you check back later in the week when we look at 6-10 of our QB rankings.