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NFL Players to Watch: Alabama vs. Penn State and South Carolina vs. Georgia

We did this exercise last week and you seemed to like it. Initially I was going to toss Michigan/Notre Dame in here but there just aren’t enough prospects in that game.

ALABAMA:

Trent Richardson, junior RB: Been smitten with this kid since his freshman year. He’s nasty. Tough, fast, lives to break tackles. He’ll be a 1st or 2nd round pick whenever he comes out. Benches 475 pounds and runs a 4.4 40. He’s 5-11, 220 and I think he’s a better pro prospect than Mark Ingram (who went late in the first round in April).

Marquis Maze, senior wide receiver: Bit of a smurf at 5-8 185, and might project as a punt return or slot receiver in the pros, sort of like what the Jets are doing with TCU rookie Jeremy Kerley. Mid-late round pick.
Jesse Williams, redshirt junior defensive tackle: They call him the “Tattooed Monster from Down Under” and the JUCO is expected to be an impact player. He’s here on reputation (and probably because he plays for Alabama). Also because he’s 6-foot-4, 320.
Dont’a Hightower redshirt junior linebacker: Beast, monster, stud, whatever you want to call him. All-American linebacker, punishing hitter and 1st round lock in 2012. Probably even goes in the Top 10. At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, he’s not quite in the Ray Lewis mold, but he’s close.
Nico Johnson, junior LB 6-3, 240: Outside linebacker played 12 games as a true freshman when Hightower went down. The Tide are loaded at linebacker, which leads me to believe Johnson may stick around for another year. If he stars as a senior, I could see him going in the 1st or 2nd round.
Dre Kirkpatrick, junior cornerback: Considered one of the top cornerbacks in the country and his ability is why Alabama can blitz the shit out of opposing teams. At 6-foot-2, 190, he’s a first round lock if he comes out. Might even go in the top half of the first round. Deion Sanders is his idol.
Mark Barron, senior safety: Two year starter at safety should be an All-American. At 6-2, 215 he’s a punishing hitter – ask CJ Spiller – could play his way into the first round. If you want to nitpick, he only runs a 4.5 40.
Courtney Upshaw, senior linebacker: On a defense loaded with – according to Todd McShay – eight of the Top 150 prospects for the 2012 draft, Upshaw (6-foot-2, 265) rivals Hightower for the top spot. He’ll probably play defensive end at times (he’s been compared to Derrick Thomas), and if you notice him a lot more explosive than last year, it’s because his ankle is fully healed.

Penn State

Gerald Hodges, junior linebacker: He’s not quite in the mold of previous LB studs at Linebacker U (Jack Ham, Shane Conlan, LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor), but I think he’s a draft sleeper. He got hurt last year against Alabama, but keep an eye on him today. At 6-2, 230, he’ll probably be part of a lot of violent collisions with Richardson. Hodges can hit. I’d say he’s in the 3rd-4th round if he came out this year, but could rise for the 2013 draft.
Devon Still, senior defensive tackle: Will project as a early-round option just based on his size (6-4, 310), but the knock on him is his inconsistency. I know Penn State has no shot to beat Alabama, but if Still and Hodges can slow the Alabama running game, the Tide will have problems moving the football and the Nittany Lions should keep it close for awhile.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Alshon Jeffery, junior wide receiver: If you follow the sport you’re obviously aware of his sick talent. Great hands, great leaping ability and he makes it all look very easy. Looking forward to his matchup against Georgia’s Brandon Boykin today. Jeffery has the height advantage (6-foot-4 vs. 5-foot-11).
Marcus Lattimore, sophomore running back: Already one of the best backs in the country. Had 37 carries (for 182 yards) vs. Georgia last year. Bulldogs probably need to keep him under 100 to have a chance. Lattimore should be a first round lock in 2013 or 2014.

Stephon Gilmore, junior cornerback: Former Mr. Football in South Carolina has been starting at corner since arriving as a true freshman. At 6-foot-1, 190, he’s got the size to be a pro. He’s supposed to be an All-American contender this year but he didn’t start the season well, struggling badly against East Carolina’s Lance Lewis.
DeVonte Holloman, junior safety: Had to sit out the opener due to an offseason DUI. At 6-foot-2, 230, he can play either safety or linebacker (but should play safety today). Right now doesn’t appear to be a early-round pick like his fellow DB Gilmore, but still has two years left to impress the scouts.
Devin Taylor, redshirt junior defensive end: The 6-7, 260 pounder was an All-SEC preseason pick and racked up 6.5 sacks in the team’s first seven games last year. Should be in the jersey of Aaron Murray all afternoon. Like the next guy on the list, Taylor is a pretty sick athlete who will often drop into coverage.
Melvin Ingram, senior, defensive end: Awesome athlete (6-2, 275), and after a menacing week one performance against the Pirates (video below), his stock is skyrocketing. Will lineup everywhere on the DL. Ingram had nine sacks as a junior. I’d say he’s in the 2nd or 3rd round right now with the potential to play his way into the first.

GEORGIA (did the Bulldogs last week, so I’ll just update it with impressions from the Boise game)

Aaron Murray, redshirt sophomore QB: It appears he’s going to take a few weeks to get used to life without AJ Green. He was only 16-of-29 for 236 yards and was picked off once against Boise. It’d help if his offensive line didn’t collapse so regularly (sacked 6 times). No pressure at all, Aaron – but a win keeps the heat off Mark Richt for a few weeks.
Brandon Boykin, senior CB: Looked like a stud against Boise State on returns, raced 80 yards for a TD on his only carry, and was pretty good in coverage, too. Was clearly the big winner from the Bulldogs in last week’s loss. He’ll have his hands full with South Carolina stud WR Alshon Jeffery, who is one of the best receivers in the country and a first-round lock. He will be the best receiver Boykin faces in the regular season, so it’s a chance to impress the scouts.
Tavarres King, junior WR: Only one catch (for three yards!) against the Broncos, and I remember one bad drop. Murray needs time to find the speedy King deep. Really could use a bounce-back against a porous Gamecock pass defense that gave up 260 yards and four scores against East Carolina last week. It appears as if he’ll draw SC’s best corner, Stephon Gilmore, who is also a pro prospect.
Orson Charles, junior TE: After an early drop – he turned his head around late, but I thought he should have made the catch – he became Murray’s top target (6 catches, 109 yards). I can see him blowing up this year and leaving Athlens early because who knows how the offense will change with Mark Richt gone and a new coach at the helm.

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