The Big East conference is still one of the premier football conferences in the country, despite how people try and label it, year in and year out it produces good teams with great talent and puts players into the NFL. This year there is an extradorinarily high number of potential NFL prospects who should make an impact on the field in 2012 and could help lead more than a few teams to big time upsets.
RB Demetrius Murray
6’2, 224 lbs.
Its finally Demtrius Murray’s time to shine down in Tampa. After spending a year playing behind transfer Darrell Scott, Murray is ready to burst out of the shadows and show why he’s a big time RB prospect. The senior is coming off back to back 500 yard seasons and was featured more in the redzone last year doubling his season high in TD’s from four to eight. Murray has good speed in the open field and seems to find that extra gear to pull away from defenders in pursuit. He could be the key to the Bulls success or failure in 2012.
DE Julius Forte
6’2, 255 lbs.
Even in their short history as a football program the USF Bulls have been known to produce some very talented pass rushers. George Selvie was once considered to be the most fearsome pass rusher in the country, and Jason Pierre-Paul is currently making himself well known to all of the NFC. Next in line may just be Julius Forte who is an interesting blend of JPP and Selvie. He has good explosion out of his stance and does a good job bending around the edge to get the QB.
DT Cory Grissom
6’2, 316 lbs.
The big man in the middle will be as big a key to the Bulls defense as Murray is to their offense. If Grissom is able to impose his will and control the line of scrimmage than the whole Bulls defense will be better because of it. Grissom showed last year that he was more than capable of dealing with the double teams that his size commands and he was impressive beating those blockers and making plays in the backfield (6 TFL). Another year should make Grissom even more capable of dealing with and shedding blockers which could lead to a huge year for him and his draft stock.
RB Dominic Brown*
6’2, 227 lbs.
Another RB who is finally getting his chance to shine, Dominic Brown sat behind Victor Anderson last year despite early equaling him in yards and getting more TD’s. Brown is a big back with some wiggle who can move well in the open field and has some ability to make you missed. Like most bigger backs though he’s better when he can just lower his shoulder and bowl you over.
DE Marcus Smith*
6′, 256 lbs.
The raw ability is all there for Marcus Smith who seemed to always find his way into the backfield when he got reps for Louisville. He has great size, good speed, and now has matured enough physically to handle the every down physicality that he’ll face in the Big East. Learning from a veteran like Greg Scruggs should only better prepare him for 2012.
WR Mark Harrison
6’3, 230 lbs.
After having a breakout Sophomore campaign where he caught over 40 passes for over 820 yards and nine TD’s many assumed 2011 would be a dominant year for Harrison and the Scarlet Knights. They had a dynamic duo at WR and a stud young RB but for some reason they stellar season never materialized and Harrison has an off year finishing 4th on his team in most receiving categories. 2012 is make or break for Harrison who has the size, athleticism, and big play ability to dominate the competition he’ll be up against in the Big East.
OT RJ Dill
6’7, 310 lbs.
One of the many Randy Edsall’s many refugee prospects Dill left the Terps for the comfier confines of New Jersey, let that marinate for a moment if you will. Dill is a massive OT who stands around 6’7, 300 lbs. He possesses freakishly long arms and uses them to keep pass rushers off his body and away from his QB. With Dill protecting the blind side no matter who the QB is he’ll have more time.
TE Hubie Graham
6’4, 230 lbs.
Pitt seems to churn out athletic pass catching TE’s like they think they are the University of Miami or something. Graham is another prospect with good hands and who knows how to run routes and get open. He does a good job getting beyond the LB on the seam route and has a nice feel for zone coverage and when to sit down in soft spots. He’s a good target for any QB to have.
CB K’Wuan Williams*
5’10, 190 lbs.
The long and athletic Williams is going to be heavily counted on this year to come in and take over a depleted Pitt secondary. Williams played well last season becoming one of the best tackling CB’s in the Big East and showing a knack for getting his hands on the football. If he can continue to develop the recognition skills he needs to make his reactions quicker he could flourish this season.
WR Kenbrell Thompkins
6’1, 196 lbs.
In our MAC Sleepers section we wrote about Toledo WR Jared Green who is a former Tennessee WR now playing for the Rockets. Well meet yet another former highly regarded UT recruit who has since gone to another program. Thompkins went down to the JUCO ranks after leaving Tennessee and was again a highly regarded JUCO signee when Butch Jones snatched him up. He finished second on the team last year in receiving and is poised for a breakout yet.
QB Munchie Legaux*
6’4, 203 lbs.
Aside from having quite possibly the coolest name of any player in the Big East, Munchie has plenty of skills to go with it. Legaux has a big arm, great size, and plenty of playmaking ability either through the air or on the ground. What he struggles with is his accuracy he was under 50% last year and will be counted on this year to make better decisions with the football and complete more passes to keep the chains moving. Look for Jones to use Legaux similarly to how Minnesota has used MarQuies Gray last season. Legaux has as much talent as any QB in the nation but can he put it all together consistently?
OLB Jory Johnson
One of a few tackling machines that Conneticut has, Johnson does an excellent job on knowing his assignment and playing it perfectly. He was consistently in the right place last year and does a good job breaking down in the hole and stuffing the ball carrier after only a minimal gain. Johnson may not be the flashiest playmaker on the UConn defense but he is among their most consistent.
CB Blidi Wrah-Wilson
We haven’t spent as much time on Big East CB’s as we have with other conferences but that doesn’t mean there aren’t playmakers in the conference. There are plenty with guys Williams and Wrah-Wilson and Jones who we’ll write about a little later. Wrah-Wilson may have the most ability out of any of these guys with his size and speed. He runs exceptionally well, has loose hips which allow him to transition with ease and seems to have that extra instinct to know where the ball is thrown and when to turn his head and go get it.
WR Alec Lemon
6’2, 202 lbs.
Ryan Nassib is quietly being whispered about as a name that could be of great potential for next April’s draft, well trust us when we tell you that if Nassib is going to have a big season it’s going to be because he was able to consistently find Alec Lemon down the field. The big play WR is Nassib’s go to threat and with his size and athletic ability he’s a tough cover for any CB. He eclipsed 800 yards last year and with the way people are talking about Nassib you have to expect Lemon to go for over 1,000 this year.
OT Justin Pugh
6’6, 292 lbs.
Pugh is quite possibly the one name from this entire article that you must know. He’s going to fly up the board quickly this season and could go as high as Day 2 of the draft. He’s a LT prospect with ideal size, plus athleticism, and more than enough strength to handle even the most powerful bull rushers. He helps keep Nassib clean in the pocket so that he can find players like Lemon down the field. He is by far the most dominant OL in the Big East and is name you will come to know quite well.
OT Martin Wallace
6’6, 310 lbs.
The former Northeastern player, Wallace transferred up to play for Temple in the MAC and now will be their starting OT as they move up into the Big East. Quite a jump for a prospect who started his career at one of the sublevels. Wallace has very good footwork for a man his size and does a good job mirroring the pass rusher when in pass protection. He uses his long arms effectively, consistently getting them extended and into the defender. He’ll be up against a new caliber of pass rushers in this conference but we think he’s up to the challenge.