What’s the one thing the Sony Studios and the Pac-12 have in common – “star power”. From its well-known coaches to its potential top 10 draft picks – the Pac-12 is poised to be the second best conference in the country behind the SEC. The conference is as deep as it has ever been, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see UCLA, Arizona State, USC, Oregon or Stanford make a legitimate run at conference championship. While many teams have a shot to compete for the roses, two player’s standout and really define the conference from a scouts view: UCLA OLB Anthony Barr and USC WR Marqise Lee.
Anthony Barr: I remember seeing him last season and being excited because of his body type. But when I saw him Friday he looked like a different guy. He told me he put on 20 pounds, and every ounce looked to be pure muscle. He is easily one of the best looking prospects I have seen coming out of college in my time in the NFL. I think when scouts see him he will have the BYU Ziggy Ansah “WOW” factor physically. Barr is a player you text your college director or GM immediately when you see in person. He was very well spoken and came across humble despite his ever growing popularity. He raved about his coaching situation with Jim Mora, DC Lou Spanos and position coach Jeff Ulbrich. NFL Scouts and teams will value these individuals take on Barr because of their experience coaching and playing at the highest level. Barr just looks like a top 5 pick walking through the door which is valued in the NFL. After seeing him today there is no doubt in my mind he has solidified himself as the second best defensive player behind South Carolina’s Clowney. If NFL scouts thought his 2012 was impressive, hope they are ready for the 2013 encore because I sure can’t wait.
Marqise Lee: I got a chance to talk with him briefly but was unable to get into anything very specific. Physically he is built like Jeremy Maclin, a player I am familiar with from my time in Philadelphia. While his stature will not blow your socks off (6-0 195) he was everything and more when it came to his off field makeup. I kept a close eye on him as any scout would with a high level prospect such as Lee. I loved the way he carried himself, he was confident without being cocky. He had a humble nature to him yet was polite to everyone I saw him interacted with. He acted like a pro, like he belongs, and that he knows what is at stake but doesn’t mind the challenge. I have yet to hear anything negative about Lee from a character standpoint. His coaches raved about him last year when I was in scouting the 2013 prospects. He was Robert Woods best friend and roommate – who was as high a character prospect as I scouted last season. While I’m not as bullish as some on Lee as an elite pro prospect, I am now more confident of his staying power because of the way he is wired upstairs.
Some other Notes:
William Sutton: The first word that comes to my head when I see him is “short” – now I understand the tape is special, and he beat OL in the Pac-12 like they were his little brother, but his physical build will turn many teams off. Some teams will not even have him on the draft board because he doesn’t meet their size requirements. When I talked with him last year at the school visit he was weighing up to 285 lbs, he is currently 305. While I understand his mindset of wanting to weigh more for the next level, if he loses any quickness in his first step he will be negating his best attribute – which put him on the map in the first place.
David Shaw: He might have been the most impressive coach at the conference. He talked about how his program values size but doesn’t sacrifice athleticism. He compared Stanford with greatness, and talking with his players they really believe this. His roster is loaded with not just NFL ready talent like: Trent Murphy, Shane Skov, Ed Reynolds, David Yankey – but loads of young blue-chippers (Barry Sanders Jr.) that should keep Stanford in the mix for years to come. This is a program not just built to win the conference, but to continue as a breeding ground for NFL draft picks. Shaw told me he wants to recruit John Lynch type players. Men you want your daughter to marry, but when they strap on the pads they inspire fear within opponents. He now has a roster full of these type these type guys.
Targeting Rule: While I understand the logic behind penalizing players for a helmet to helmet contact – ejecting them for such penalties is a little harsh in my eyes. The NCAA recently said that the Clowney hit would have been an ejection, and coaches around the country have slowly been becoming more vocal in their disgust. I think Mike Leach said it best: “those types of hits are the reason kids play football.” I couldn’t agree more, but the reality is the powers that matter disagree. Don’t be surprised if a targeting ejection in a big game becomes this year replacement ref controversy for college football. Wait until Nick Saban or Urban Meyers top players is ejected for targeting in a tight fourth quarter game, fireworks will ensue I promise you that.
Lane Kiffin: You could feel the fire beneath his chair, and it’s not just warm but scolding hot. Kiffin will be relying on a lot of freshman to contribute and one just may be his starting quarterback. While they have blue chip talent in the starting lineup, they lack depth. They can ill afford one key injury or to lose Marqise Lee even for a game or two. The buzzards will be out for Kiffin if things don’t go well early, because they do have the talent to win 10 or 11 games if they can stay healthy. Both Kiffin and Lee raved about sophomore WR Nelson Agholor who will be asked to replace Robert Woods who departed early to the NFL. This isn’t popular to say, but Agholor may have more upside as a pro prospect than Lee. Despite being 19, NFL scouts are already zeroing in on this player. The Trojans are the Yankees of the Pac-12, and they need them to be relevant for the conference to truly make a national imprint. If things don’t start well Lane Kiffin could turn into the equivalent of Alex Rodriguez – and the ending might be just as embarrassing.