The staff here at CFFInsider.com has just spent the last few months researching, writing and editing about 1,4000 player previews. There have been many late nights when I wished I could borrow JoePa's computer in order to save my eyes a little bit of strain. Because, truth be told, the Bowling Green Spring Prospectus isn't always the most riveting of reads.
While not a lot has happened (on or off the field) during this time (save for that minor news story out of Columbus), this doesn't mean that some players haven't moved up or down my own draft board. Sometimes it takes a few months and a bit of over-analysis before a light turns on, and I realize may have initially miscalculated a player's potential.
Mind you, this is not a list of my Super Top Secret Sleepers, a traditional piece that has often shown my genius (Michael Crabtree and DeMarco Murray) and my idiocy (Chris Markey and Rolandis Woodland). That bad boy will be released at a later date. This is a list of players that are making a move in my pea brain, be it up or down. Things could change before I crack my first cold one on draft night, but as of right now this is what I'm thinking.
Moving on Up
Matt Barkley, USC
The Trojans are a forgotten group this off-season, and they’re going about their business with relatively low expectations heading into 2011. Like Andrew Luck, Barkley will lead an offense that will look to replace six lost starters from a season ago. Unlike Luck, we know that there’s plenty of top-flight talent ready to step in and thrive.
Barkley was very impressive as a sophomore, posting improved numbers in every key category. And he’ll have a plethora of options at wide receiver, with Robert Woods and Kyle Prater joined by stud freshman George Farmer and a few others. While sanctions have turned the current USC program into a shell of its recent self, Barkley has handled things with impressive maturity and displayed a great deal of leadership. Now he’s poised to finish up strong.
There’s a chance that Barkley will not only battle Andrew Luck on October 29, but also for the honor of being the first quarterback selected next April. Lane Kiffin will put his team on Barkley’s shoulders, and the more I look towards 2011 the more I expect to see from this USC junior.
E.J. Manuel, Florida State
Like my colleague Chris Bennett, I’m looking for big things from this Seminole. Manuel has patiently waited his turn, and while doing so he’s also absorbed Jimbo Fisher's offense. And in limited duty a season ago Manuel provided enough evidence to convince us that Fisher’s confidence in his rising junior is warranted.
Fisher has been heaping plenty of praise on his starter this off-season, and this offense will be built around the 6’4” signal caller. Most importantly, the Seminoles return so much talent from a season ago that not even the loss of Taiwan Easterling to the baseball diamond causes us much concern. Ponder and Manuel combined for 29 touchdowns a season ago, and Manuel will surpass that total in 2011.
Hubert Anyiam, Oklahoma State
We were certain that it would Anyiam stepping in for Dez Bryant and emerging as the Pokes’ go-to guy in 2010. Then Anyiam couldn’t stay healthy, and Justin Blackmon emerged not only as the leader in Stillwater, but the nation. And though Blackmon returns in 2011, a healthy Anyiam will get his fair share of touches, yardage and scores.
The departure of Dana Holgorsen will not hurt the OSU passing attack almost as much as it will damage the bottom line at some of Stillwater’s taverns, as the offensive scheme remains in place. Teams will be forced to pay far too much attention to Blackmon, and Anyiam will ready to show what he can really do.
Denard Robinson, Michigan
In no way am I saying that Mr. Robinson will not be a good quarterback this season. His playmaking ability, coupled with the usual sophomore-to-junior jump, will allow him to take over games against particular opponents. However there are enough signs to warrant moving Robinson down your draft board.
First, forget about the tearful press conferences and his affinity for Josh Groban’s music. Rich Rodriguez can flat out coach offense; he did it before Michigan, eventually at Michigan, and he’ll do it after Michigan. Last year’s Wolverine offense ranked 8th nationally, and 25th in scoring offense. Now West Virginia’s Fredo Corleone is working for CBS and Brody Hoke is hanging out at Schembechler Hall along with new OC Al Borges. And while I believe that Borges is an excellent offensive mind, I know he’s also a fan of winning games. And a large part of winning games is keeping one’s defense off the field.
I’ve heard a great deal about returning Michigan to the traditional style that led to so much success over the years. This doesn’t mean that the Wolverines will return to nothing but power formations and tight end waggles. The staff will adapt to the personnel (something Rich Rod refused to do) and utilize their weapons. However in no way, shape or form will this involve the quarterback running the pigskin 256 times, and I simply don’t believe that remotely similar numbers will result from tossing it 256 times.
Robinson will still outpace the likes of Cousins, Persa, Martinez and Scheelhaase this season. But nationally there are much better #1 quarterbacks.
Trent Richardson, Alabama
My take on Richardson: he’s a terrific back who presents much more gamebreaking ability than his predecessor, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram. He also benefited considerably from Ingram beating the hell out of defenses. If you’ve been getting run over by a Ford F-150 that Mustang is going to look that much faster.
In short, I think that Mark Ingram was too damn good to simply believe Trent Richardson will slide right in and equal or better his numbers. This is no slight against Richardson or Bama’s four returning starters on the line. Rather I think Ingram will leave larger shoes than many believe.
Regardless of my concerns, there’s little reason to think that Richardson won’t thrive this season. However keep this in mind: If Nick Saban was more than willing to split carries between Ingram and Richardson, isn’t it reasonable to think he’ll do the same with Richardson and Eddie Lacy?
Andrew Luck, Stanford
He’s the most talented, pro-ready quarterback since Payton Manning, and a case can be made that Luck is more Sunday-ready than the former Vol was back in 1997. In two seasons he’s thrown 45 touchdowns against 12 picks, and he’s accounted for five more on the ground. He’s the total package. It’s just very hard to get past the departures of Jim Harbaugh and three starters on the offensive line.
The loss of a head coach and six starters on offense is cause for concern at a traditional power that sets up shop in the Top-10 on an annual basis. Stanford is not such a program. David Shaw may very well end up being Jim Harbaugh Part Deux, but there’s plenty of cause for concern.
Could Luck toss 35 scores in 2011? Certainly, but as the summer camp approaches I’m feeling that number may end up closer to 25.
Clearly each player mentioned above should be featured prominently on your draft board, and in no way am I predicting seasons of gloom and doom for Robinson, Richardson and Luck. Each will certainly end his campaign among the top at his position. However I'm sliding each player down my own personal board based on the reasons outlined above, while Barkley, Anyiam and Manuel each jump ahead of some on the boards of others.
Is it Draft Day yet?