Arkansas RB Knile Davis looked to bounce back from injury in 2012 but never was able to reach his former heights and struggled to gain traction. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com
Our preseason top 25 prospects list contained some hits (Jarvis Jones, Luke Joeckel), some misses (Logan Thomas, Knile Davis) and some players whose play justified our confidence in them despite relatively limited exposure (David Carr, Dee Milliner). And of course no list is worth its salt without omissions (Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan, Florida State DE Bjoern Werner). With the benefit of hindsight, here’s a look back at our preseason 25:
1) QB Matt Barkley, USC — Had a disappointing senior season — completion percentage dropped from 69.1 to 63.6 and INTs increased from seven to 15 — and missed the final two games of his career because of a shoulder injury. Did not assuage concerns about his arm strength, athleticism and durability. In a league desperate for quarterbacks, Barkley projects as a starter, but he doesn’t inspire confidence he’s worth building a franchise around. He’ll be scrutinized in the next four months.
Stats: 246-387-3,273-36-15 (63.6)
2) CB David Amerson*, North Carolina St. — Amerson, who intercepted 13 passes in 2011, was consistently inconsistent during his junior season and his stock has dropped. He looked bad in a nationally televised game against Tennessee to open the season, had a nightmare day against Miami when he was beaten for a handful of touchdowns and was flagged for offsides on a field goal attempt and was beaten for a score by Clemson WR Deandre Hopkins. Coverage lapses, soft contain and inconsistent tackling were too prevalent for Amerson, whose tweener traits prohibit him from being considered elite. At this point, it might behoove Amerson to return to school, regain focus and exhibit mental toughness in a bounceback senior season.
Stats: 54 tackles, 11 pass breakups, five interceptions
3) OLB Jarvis Jones*, Georgia — Jones entered the season as an elite prospect and played like one, establishing a single-season school record for sacks despite missing two games. Jones, who will be a 24-year-old rookie, grades out as one of the best prospects in this year’s draft and has immediate impact ability as a 3-4 rush linebacker. Medical rejection — Jones has spinal stenosis — is the only red flag which could jeopardize his standing.
Stats: 85 tackles, 24 1/2 for loss, 14 1/2 sacks, three batted passes, one interception, seven forced fumbles, 34 hurries
4) QB Logan Thomas*, Virginia Tech — Looked more like a converted tight end than a franchise quarterback prospect as a junior. Did not make expected strides in key areas of his game and posted a very poor completion percentage. Physical tools are there and has clear upside, but isn’t ready for prime time yet.
Stats: 220-429-2,976-18-16 (51.3 percent)
5) QB Derek Carr*, Fresno St. — Carr has already announced he’s returning to school for his senior season, but his visibility is sure to increase thanks to a strong junior campaign. The younger brother of Texans 2002 first-overall choice David Carr, Derek has the arm talent, athleticism and intangibles to become a first-rounder himself, especially amidst a lackluster group of 2014 quarterback prospects. In a new system with new receivers, Carr posted a sparkling touchdown-to-interception ratio, excelled on third down and increased his completion percentage. Was average against Oregon and Boise State and résumé lacks signature win.
Stats: 344-511-4,104-37-7 (67.3 percent)
6) OLT Luke Joeckel*, Texas A&M — Was the best left tackle in college football this season, solidifying his standing as an elite talent at a premium position. Excels in pass protection, and with a handful of teams in the top ten selections in need of a tackle, Joeckel won’t last long on Draft Day. Is ready to step in right away like Vikings fourth-overall pick Matt Kalil.
7) OT Taylor Lewan*, Michigan — If there was any question if Lewan is ready for the NFL, his Outback Bowl performance against South Carolina phenom Jadaveon Clowney erased doubt. The two future pros engaged in a classic individual battle, and while Clowney made the most memorable play (a vicious tackle for loss which immediately went viral), Lewan made a mint by preventing Clowney from notching a sack in the contest. In the process, Lewan exhibited physicality, focus and a compete level desired of dependable lineman at the next level. The irascible Lewan isn’t a polished, prototype left tackle, but he’s a slam-dunk first-rounder with terrific size and athleticism who plays with vinegar and will infuse an offensive line with grit.
8) RDE/ROLB Barkevious Mingo*, LSU — Mingo’s preseason assessment is still applicable: not yet a finished product, but possesses long, athletic frame and an exceptional combination of explosion, athleticism, flexibility and closing speed to develop into a devastating pass rusher. Despite notching just 4 1/2 sacks this season (the same number Clay Matthews Jr. posted his senior season at USC, just for the record), Mingo’s upside remains unquestioned. He’s a first-round talent if/when he makes the jump.
Stats: 38 tackles, 8 1/2 for loss, 4 1/2 sacks, three batted passes, one forced fumble, 12 hurries
9) TE Tyler Eifert*, Notre Dame — The Irish’s leading receiver, Eifert lacks elite speed and agility after the catch, but boasts terrific size and exceptional ball skills. Also showed considerable improvement as a blocker in 2012. Adds a playmaking element down the seam and in the red zone and is worthy off a first-round pick.
Stats: 44-624-4 (14.2)
10) OG Chance Warmack, Alabama — Three words: plug and play.
11) OG Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina — Not unlike Warmack, Cooper rates as one of the cleanest prospects in this year’s class. Doesn’t have the sheer mass to overpower defenders, but is durable, experienced, athletic and fundamentally sound. Draws rave reviews from his coaches and has a professional approach to the game. Is the rare interior blocker worthy of a first-round selection and could excel in a zone system for the next 10 years.
12) NT Jesse Williams, Alabama — What you see is what you get with Williams, who isn’t flashy, but has outstanding strength to occupy blocks and stuff the run. Also has good movement and motor for a 320-pounder. Opinions vary on where Williams will land in the draft because he doesn’t offer pass-rush value beyond pushing the pocket, but he’s an NFL-strong, battle-tested SEC nose tackle who fits in an odd or even front.
Stats: 36 tackles, 2 1/2 for loss, one sack, two batted passes
13) DE/OLB Michael Buchanan, Illinois — Buchanan didn’t step out of Whitney Mercilus’ shadow and “announce his presence with authority” like some were expecting. Entering the season, he looked like an ascending prospect, but he played more like a Day Two selection as a senior. With his dimensions and pass-rush ability, it’s unlikely he’ll escape the third round, but Buchanan disappears for stretches and he’ll have to play with better strength and leverage to elevate his game.
Stats: 57 tackles, seven for loss, 4 1/2 sacks, five batted passes, one interception, one forced fumble
14) DT Kawann Short, Purdue — Stout and powerful big man with disruptive strength and quickness, though he doesn’t consistently dominate the line of scrimmage like he should. Has first-round ability, but tape evaluation could push him into the second round. Accordingly, he comes with some risk and he’ll have to improve his conditioning, effort and consistency to live up to his potential.
Stats: 43 tackles, 15 1/2 for loss, seven sacks, four batted passes, one forced fumble, four blocked kicks
15) NT Star Lotulelei, Utah — Gifted interior force with imposing size, NFL strength and eyebrow-raising quickness and movement. Isn’t a natural pass rusher, but can cave the pocket with power, and his presence creates one-on-one matchups for line mates. Despite inordinate blocking attention, Lotulelei has only gotten better at Utah, and if his motor catches up with his physical gifts, he can be a Pro Bowler. Scheme-versatile big man with a rare skill set.
Stats: 42 tackles, 10 for loss, five sacks, four batted passes, three forced fumbles
16) OT D.J. Fluker*, Alabama — Fluker, a fourth-year junior who recently graduated, earned first-team All-SEC recognition from the conference’s coaches. Did a solid job handling the speed and quickness of Mingo in November matchup, and best football is in front of him. Massive right tackle is a better prospect than Kelechi Osemele, a second-round pick who started from Day One for the Ravens. Unpolished mauler an o-line coach would love to get his hands on.
17) RB Le’Veon Bell*, Michigan State — Running behind an inconsistent offensive line which was average on its best day, Bell was a workhorse for the Spartans, leading the Big Ten in rushing while toting more times than anyone in the country. Had seven games of 130 yards or more, including three 200-yard performances, but was held in check by Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Nevertheless, Bell is built like a bruiser and churns out yards after contact, but has athleticism belying his size. He’s a throwback who could be an instant-impact second-rounder. Has already declared for the draft.
Stats: 382-1,793-12 (4.7) rushing, 32-167-1 (5.2) receiving
18) WR Robert Woods*, USC — Despite not having as strong a season as his 2011 campaign, Woods declared for the draft after the Trojans’ embarrassing Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech. Reportedly, he received a second-round grade from the NFL’s advisory committee, which seems accurate for a guy who profiles as a dynamic, versatile No. 2/slot receiver with run-after-catch ability. With the emergence of Biletnikoff winner Marquise Lee, a better overall receiver, and the prospect of Max Wittek at quarterback next fall, the time is now for Woods, whose stopwatch speed will be highly anticipated at the Combine.
Stats: 76-846-11 (11.) receiving, 17-61 (3.6) punt returns
19) S Eric Reid*, LSU — As a sophomore, was a rising defensive playmaker, but saw his stock drop in 2012 when he was plagued by inconsistency and too often beat in coverage. Physical tools and instincts are there to be an outstanding defender, but has to transition from a flash player to a dependable safety.
Stats: 91 tackles, seven pass breakups, two interceptions, tackle for loss
20) CB Dee Milliner*, Alabama — Broke out in 2011 and continued his ascent in 2012, embracing the spotlight as the Crimson Tide’s top cover man — vaulted from a sophomore nickel back to a first-round cornerback prospect as a junior. Looks the part with ideal length and fluidity and has defended 30 passes the last two seasons. Should be a dependable No. 1 corner at the next level, and coming from Nick Saban’s system only helps his cause. Is more natural than recent Alabama first-round cornerback products Dre Kirkpatrick and Kareem Jackson.
Stats: 51 tackles, 18 pass breakups, two interceptions, four tackles for loss, 1 1/2 sacks, one forced fumble
21) S Tony Jefferson*, Oklahoma — Sustained a sprained ankle Sept. 8 against Florida A&M, but you wouldn’t know it based on Jefferson’s constant energy and activity. Terrific football player with desirable versatility and instincts, though his draft status could be dictated by measurables, particularly if he’s closer to 5-9 than 5-11 and 4.6 than 4.4. Isn’t an explosive, rangy centerfielder, but does have some interchangeable safety skills. Projects best as strong safety, as he looks most natural playing downhill, and should be a fine pro if/when he arrives.
Stats: 113 tackles, three pass breakups, two interceptions, 3 1/2 tackles for loss, one-half sack
22) DE Malliciah Goodman, Clemson — Overall, Goodman leaves you wanting more in the form of more consistent power and leverage, as well as tangible impact plays (just 13 1/2 tackles for loss the last two seasons), but he has assets you can’t teach: a 6-4, 280-pound frame with vines for arms and meat hooks for hands. In the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU, Goodman victimized a freshman guard-tackle combination for two sacks, providing a glimpse of his potential. However, he doesn’t possess the edge burst, flexibility or natural pass-rush ability typically characteristic of defensive ends drafted in the top two rounds. Come April, Goodman could be a wild card as a base end depending on how his ceiling is perceived. Another prospect whose best football could be a head of him but has a bust factor.
Stats: 27 tackles, 9 1/2 for loss, six sacks, two batted passes, four forced fumbles
23) NT Johnathan Hankins*, Ohio State — Major cog in OSU run defense that yielded just 116 yards per game. Came into his own this fall, showing the ability to dominate and play with improved recognition and reaction. Offers limited pass-rush value, but arrow is pointing upwards and has potential to become an interior force given his thick trunk, base strength, heavy hands and surprising movement skills. Hankins, who could play in a 3-4 or 4-3, has already declared for the draft and should be a first-round choice.
Stats: 55 tackles, four for loss, one sack
24) DE/OLB Corey Lemonier*, Auburn — Has already announced his intention to enter the draft despite reportedly receiving a third-round grade from the NFL’s advisory committee. Isn’t an elite athlete and doesn’t project as a sack artist in the pros, but has starter-caliber ability. College defensive end who seems destined to stand up as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Stats: 34 tackles, 5 1/2 for loss, 5 1/2 sacks, one pass breakup, one forced fumble
25) RB Knile Davis*, Arkansas — Davis, like the Arkansas team, had a disappointing season, failing to regain his 2010 form. A 70-yard effort against Jacksonville State was his most productive game of the season. He also was slowed down the stretch by a hamstring injury suffered against Ole Miss on Oct. 27, highlighting durability concerns. Davis will have to test well to salvage his value, but even at that, he’s injury-prone and hasn’t put impressive play on tape in two years. Certainly not a throwaway case, but he’s a reclamation project at this point, not an elite back.
Stats: 112-377-2 (3.4) rushing, 11-157-1 (14.3) receiving
Note: Rankings in no way reflect the opinion of the St. Louis Rams.