by Greg Doyle
Some good games on the first full Saturday of college football. I’m excited to watch a few and get the season rolling. Here we go:
Saturday, September 1st
East Carolina at Virginia Tech (12:00 Noon ESPN): This surely will be an emotional game given the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech. Hopefully the new school year can bring much better times for the troubled university. The game today features many top prospects, especially for the highly rated Hokies. Let’s take a look at some of the main players to watch.
Virginia Tech WR Eddie Royal (#4): Royal is a pure triangle numbers guy at 5’10” 181 and able to bench press 390 lbs while also reportedly running a 4.22/40. He led Virginia Tech with 497 receiving yards last season and averaged 16.0 yards per catch. He definitely has an NFL future and the Patriots always like to have stretch the field receivers on the roster. Watch him closely.
Virginia Tech WR’s Josh Morgan (#2) and Justin Harper (#81): I lump these two together because they are bigger receivers who split time. Morgan is 6’1″ 219 and has 76 career receptions. Harper is 6’4″ 204 and reportedly runs a 4.36/40. He has 42 career receptions. Virginia Tech is a run-based team, but they like to spread it around when they do pass. It’ll be interesting to watch Morgan and Harper, as well as Royal, to see if there is developmental potential in a NFL offense. They all have obvious talent and skills.
Virginia Tech LT Duane Brown (#76): Former tight end has athleticism to protect blind side and be an NFL left tackle. Second team All-ACC last year. Switching to the left side from right this season.
Virginia Tech MLB Vince Hall (#9): Hall is only 6’0 tall, but plays inside and was a tackling machine with 128 tackles racked up. Has decent size and was first team All-ACC and a team leader. Seems to be a Patriots-type guy and has been extremely productive as a college player.
Virginia Tech LB Xavier Adibi (#11): Productive play maker who also can get out in space and cover backs and tight ends. Has decent quickness and picked off 3 passes last year.
East Carolina RB Chris Johnson (#5): Has over 1,500 career yards and can return kicks too. Not great size at 200 lbs. Can possibly get himself into the draft with a strong senior year in which he displays continued pass catching ability (88 career catches) and kick return ability.
East Carolina C Matt Butler (#68): Good size and has started at both guard and center. Given the Patriots love of versatility, including in their lineman, that gives him a chance. Slotted to play center this year.
East Carolina G Josh Coffman (#76): Another former tight end who was 3rd Team Conference USA last year. Given that the Patriots like athletic guards who can get out in space, Coffman could warrant a look.
East Carolina LB Fred Wilson (#51): Good size at 6’2″ 250 to play the middle. Only played one year of major college football as he is a JUCO transfer. Solid first season, but will need to show athleticism and dominance to have a chance to play on Sundays.
East Carolina CB Travis Williams (#8): Honorable mention Conference USA last season and can return kicks as well. Will need a big senior year.
Georgia Tech at Notre Dame (3:30 PM NBC): A game between two teams that are uncharacteristically out of the Top 25, but they’re not without talent. In Notre Dame’s case, a lot of the talent is young so it won’t be in next year’s draft. But there are some players worth noting and this should be a good game to watch against two teams who have the potential to surprise.
Georgia Tech RB Tashard Choice (#22): A smallish and not particularly flashy running back who somehow produces big numbers. He originally went to Oklahoma before transferring to Georgia Tech rather than sitting behind Adrian Peterson. He isn’t a bruiser, but he is a solid college player. Hasn’t displayed much pass catching ability. Will have to improve his power, catching and blocking to be looked at as a top NFL prospect. But the production in a good conference is hard to ignore (over 1,400 yards rushing last year).
Georgia Tech DE Adamm Oliver (#42): A tall and lanky defensive end who hasn’t shown any coverage ability. Probably would fit as a 4-3 end in the NFL, so not a Patriots prospect. He hasn’t shown overwhelming pass rush ability with only 3.5 sacks last year. Will need a big senior year.
Georgia Tech LB Philip Wheeler (#41): A good college linebacker who is also a good blitzer (9 sacks last year). Only 230 lbs, he’d have to play outside for the Patriots, so will need to display speed and coverage ability, something he hasn’t done yet. But he is a good, smart player and solid tackler, as well as Georgia Tech’s defensive leader.
Georgia Tech CB Avery Roberson (#34): Excellent size (6’2″ 200) and solid tackler. Will have to do better in coverage and only recorded one pass broken up and zero interceptions last year, astoundingly low numbers for a starting cornerback. Still, he does have talent.
Georgia Tech S Jamal Lewis (#4): Probably the best overall player on Georgia Tech’s defense. He was a 1st team All-ACC safety last year and given the Patriots have the aging (and now suspended) Rodney Harrison there, as well as potential free agent and injury-prone Eugene Wilson, Lewis is someone they and we’ll want to keep a close eye on in this game. A very solid prospect.
Georgia Tech K Travis Bell (#87) and P Durant Brooks (#38): Georgia Tech has both All-ACC kickers and both are NFL prospects. Bell is 38-56 for his career in field goals, though disappointingly his best season was his freshman year. Brooks had a 45.5 average as a punter last year and an NCAA best 40.7 net per punt. Will be one of the best punters in the draft.
Notre Dame TE John Carlson (#89): Carlson is really an excellent all-around tight end and given the Patriots traditional interest in tight ends and ties to Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, he could be a target for them. He is big and tall, but can get down the field and catch passes. Has 60 career catches, including 47 last year when he became a starter. Solid blocker as well. Definitely worth watching.
Notre Dame C John Sullivan (#78): John Sullivan? Sounds like a perfect fit for the Boston area. But seriously, this guy is one of the best centers in the draft. Been a starter for three years and an anchor for some very good offenses. Could get a bit bigger, but he should be a first day prospect. Can also long snap, which is a plus.
Notre Dame LB Joe Brockington (#52): Brockington has been a good player on an under-performing unit the last few years. He is solid, but not much of a play-maker (only 1 sack and tackle for loss). Has talent and smarts, but doesn’t show up much. Needs to have a big senior year and show leadership and play-making ability to be a top prospect. Still, could be the type that the Patriots may look into: a competent special teamer with talent to grow into a full-time position. Surely Weis’ opinion will weigh heavily, so they’ll definitely check him out thoroughly. So should we.
Notre Dame CB Ambrose Wooden (#22): A starter in 2005, he moved to nickel back last year. Projected to start again this year. Looks the part, but like a lot of Notre Dame defenders, just hasn’t made many plays. Hasn’t had an interception in two years.
Notre Dame S Tom Zbikowski (#9): Probably the best player on defense here, he almost entered the draft last year. A professional boxer, Zbikowski is a leader and tough guy who is an excellent tackler, but somewhat suspect in coverage. Has safety size at 6’0″ 210. Came to Notre Dame as a quarterback and he is intelligent. A big senior year will land him in the first round.
Tennessee at California (8PM ABC): One of the top games of the weekend with Tennessee ranked 15th and California 12th in the polls. California will be looking to avenge last year’s 35-18 wipeout at the hands of the Vols. Here are some of the players to watch:
Tennessee QB Erik Ainge (#10): Danny’s nephew completed 67% of his passes last year and had a 19-9 TD-INT ratio. Has great size at 6’6″ 220 and with a big senior year will be one of the most highly touted quarterbacks in the draft.
Tennessee DE’s Xavier Mitchell (#93) and Antonio Reynolds (#89): Two defensive ends who have been somewhat disappointing in their play. Probably don’t fit into the Patriots system. Mitchell has been more productive so far and had 4 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries last year, but some think Reynolds is a smarter, more solid player.
Tennessee S Jonathan Hefney (#33): Active player who makes a lot of tackles and plays very hard. Was a cornerback his freshman year and then moved to safety as a sophomore. That versatility will interest the Patriots, but given his extremely small size (5’9″ 185) it’s hard to see him ever being more than an NFL nickel or dime back.
California WR Lavelle Hawkins (#7): Not as highly touted as California’s junior All-American candidate receiver DeSean Jackson, but a good prospect nonetheless. More of a possession receiver than Jackson, he still averaged over 15 yards per catch. Has good height and good hands. Definitely a prospect and could fit with the Patriots as an outside receiver.
California T Mike Gibson (#53): Replaced Patriots T Ryan O’Callaghan as the Golden Bears starting right tackle last year and earned second team All-Pac 10 honors. A bit small at 290, but can put more weight on a big frame. Was a JUCO player as well, has definite potential and the Patriots had luck finding a player from this program already in O’Callaghan.
Monday September 3rd
Florida State at Clemson (8:00 PM ABC): A rare conference opener for these two ACC teams as they face off in the annual “Bowden Bowl”. Son Tommy, Coach of Clemson, has defeated his father Bobby’s Florida State squad three of the past four years. There are, as always, many good players to watch in this game.
Florida State T Shanon Boatman (#73): This massive right tackle would have to show great athleticism to fit with the Patriots. He hasn’t done so yet and it’s doubtful he will. Probably not what the Pats would be looking for, but some team that wants a powerful, road-grader type at right tackle will be interested. The former JUCO checks in at 6’7″ 324.
Florida State WR De’Cody Fagg (#81): Very, very talented, big and strong receiver. Production has just been so-so, but at 6’3″ 218 he really can be a big possession guy, especially in the red zone. Yet he only had 1 TD last year. Needs to show more. Merely being good is disappointing given his talent.
Florida State DE Alex Boston (#98): Had a disappointing career and totaled only 8 tackles last year despite starting 7 games. Awful production, but has talent and size combination you look for. A good senior year could send his stock soaring.
Florida State DT Andre Fluellen (#96): A very good college defensive tackle. I’d see him, at 285 lbs, as more of a 3-4 end candidate with the Patriots. This will be his third year as a starter and has had a good career. Could be a first rounder if he shows continued improvement. Not much of a pass rusher though.
Florida State S Roger Williams (#8): Very prodctive and good-sized safety. Had 67 tackles and 4 INTs last year as a junior. Must become a force and leader this year as a senior if he wants to become one of the top safeties in the draft. Was not highly touted coming out of high school, so he has worked to improve, making himself a starter on roster that already has a lot of talent.
Clemson T Barry Richardson (#79): A huge left tackle who was first team All-ACC, he is an All-American candidate this year. Three year starter who has been very durable. Much more athletic than Boatman, he has a chance to be a very good NFL tackle and high draft pick. The Patriots could be interested, despite their depth on the line.
Clemson LB Nick Watkins (#32): Clemson’s leading tackler last year with 116 tackles. SHowever, he’s smallish and doesn’t make many plays in the backfield or in coverage. Probably doesn’t fit in the Patriots system.
Others to watch: Boston College has an excellent NFL prospect at Quarterback in Matt Ryan (#12). He’ll be on at 3:30 PM Saturday on ABC playing Wake Forest. Georgia running back Kregg Lumpkin (#3) will be looking for a big senior year to send his draft status soaring. The highly touted back out of high school has yet to run for 1,000 yards as a collegian, but this could be his year. He weighs in at 222 lbs with good speed. Catch him at 6:45 PM Saturday against Oklahoma State on ESPN2. For you late-night mavens, watch USC quarterback John David Booty (#10), a Heisman candidate and potential #1 pick, tear apart Idaho on Fox Sports Network at 10:15 PM Saturday night. USC’s Keith Rivers, wearing the fabled #55 for the Trojans, is a linebacker the Patriots could look at as an answer to their outside needs in the 3-4, with Mike Vrabel getting along in years and talking about retirement in recent articles.
Tout your prospects, here.