Last year, the Wolfpack had an excellent start, going 4-0 to open their season. Then, the reality of conference play set in, and they went on a four game losing skid, all to ACC opponents. They did finish the season strong, winning four out of their last five games. The proudest moment of the season was their victory against UNC at Chapel Hill. Ask any NC State fan, and they will tell you it doesn’t matter how poorly they play the whole season, as long as they beat UNC, they are happy. Last year was a great year for NC State; let’s see how 2015 is shaping up for them.
The offense for the Wolfpack is led by QB Jacoby Brissett. Brissett was a transfer player from Florida. In his junior year, Brissett did excellent work throwing for over 2,500 yards, 23 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. The only bad part for Brissett is that his two top receivers transferred at the end of the season. The departure of two great pass catchers leaves the Wolfpack receiving corps looking rather thin heading into 2015. The rushing game for NC State was rather impressive last season with the Pack averaging 204.5 rushing yards per game. The running back that was responsible for the majority of those yards was Shadrach Thornton. Thornton rushed for almost a thousand yards last season and rushed for 9 TDs. Having such a great ground game kept their turnovers down to only 15 the whole season. Thornton is heading into his senior season this year and is looking to increase his draft stock. This season, the O-line is bringing back three starters who will hope to open plenty of holes. The line will also hope to protect their QB a lot better, seeing as they allowed over thirty sacks.
The rushing defense for the Wolfpack last season was average at best, allowing around 168 rush yards per game. The last five games of the season, the run protection became stouter by not allowing more than 85 yards in four out of five games. Sadly, for NC State, they lost three starters on their defensive line. This will be hard to replace, but there is some young talent to fill their shoes. The anchor of the line will likely be DT B.J. Hill, who had 40 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss last season. The pass defense for the Pack did an excellent job last season of preventing a lot of air travel. They allowed, on average, 204.7 pass yards per game, which ranked 30th in the nation. The secondary still has all of its members on the team and are looking to fly under a lot of their opponents radars and surprise them.
Strength of Schedule: 5 out of 10
The schedule for the Wolfpack is extremely soft through the first four non-conference games (Troy, East Kentucky, Old Dominion, and South Alabama). However, it soon gets harder for them as they have to face Virginia Tech, Florida State, and an up and coming Boston College team, all on the road. The schedule does swing in their favor some as they do have Clemson and Louisville at home. The biggest highlight of the season for NC State will be their home finale, when their rivals, the UNC Tar Heels, come to Raleigh. I feel the offense for NC State is pretty set up, besides the receiving situation. The defense is full of guys who are young and underrated who hope to step up and make a difference this year. I expect the Wolfpack to be able to make it to their fifth bowl game in the past six years.
2016 NFL Draft Prospects:
#12 Jacoby Brissett, QB, Senior—6’4”, 231 lbs
#10 Shadrach Thornton, RB, Senior—6’1”, 206 lbs
#20 Hakim Jones, FS, Senior—6’2”, 205 lbs
After winning Super Bowls following the 2007 and 2011 seasons, the New York Giants have gone in the wrong direction. While they used to rule the NFC East, those days are gone, and currently, they are far behind division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas. In 2015, the Giants have to take a step forward. If it doesn’t happen, there could be changes made.
One of the reasons for the Giants demise has been the play of quarterback Eli Manning. In the last three seasons, his overall production has really dropped off. While he was one considered one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, that is no longer the case. His decision making and accuracy are not what they used to be. The Giants are hopeful that Eli can turn things around in 2015.
In 2014, the Giants installed a new offense under offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. With this being Eli’s second year in the system, his overall play may improve. Behind Manning is third year man Ryan Nassib who continues to show improvement but really hasn’t had much of a chance to play.
One of the reasons that Manning’s play may have slipped is the Giants have not gotten much from their running backs in the last few years. Last year, they signed Rashad Jennings and drafted Andre Williams with the hope of getting more production, but that didn’t really happen. This year, they signed former Patriot Shane Vereen, and the hope is that the three of them, who all have different styles, can complement each other and produce.
The reality is that the lack of offensive punch could be traced back to the very average play of the offensive line. Age, injury, and lack of production have hurt the line. This offseason, the Giants have rebuilt their line looking for a change.
Will Beatty was supposed to be the left tackle, but the oft injured lineman tore a pectoral muscle during the offseason and will miss most, if not all, of the season. The Giants were hoping to play rookie first round pick Ereck Flowers at right tackle, but with the injury to Beatty, Flowers will play on the left side, where he lined up in college. The right tackle will be Marshall Newhouse, a free agent signee from Cincinnati.
The left guards will be former first round pick Justin Pugh, who has been moved inside after playing his first two years at tackle. At right guard, veteran Geoff Schwartz will line up. If Schwartz can stay healthy, he can be a very good player for the Giants.
The center will be 2014 second round pick Weston Richburg who played well as a rookie at guard. He is a natural center and has the makings of being a strong leader.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
The Giants 2014 first round pick Odell Beckham Jr. just may have been the top rookie in his class. After going through the offseason with a hamstring injury, Beckham Jr exploded with 91 receptions for over 1300 yards. As good as Beckham Jr is, he can be even better if Victor Cruz comes back 100% from last year’s injury. If Cruz is 100%, the Giants will have one of the better wide receiver combos in the NFL.
The third receiver is Rueben Randle, who has shown flashes in his three previous seasons but no consistency. He is very talented but needs to put it all together. The tight end will be Larry Donnell, who keeps getting better with experience. When Donnell is on his game, he shows some special qualities.
The Giants have depth at tight end with Daniel Fells and Adrien Robinson, but Preston Parker is unproven. The Giants hope that free agent Dwayne Harris becomes a key addition.
The Giants’ defense has struggled the past few seasons, and coordinator Perry Fewell was let go. New York went back to the future, so to speak, by hiring former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to replace Fewell. When the Giants defense was run by Spagnuolo, it was always one of the better defenses in the league.
Going into training camp, who starts along the line is a mystery. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has yet to sign his franchise tender. When healthy, Pierre Paul is a terrific pass rusher and will man the right end spot.
Who lines up at left end will be determined in camp with rookie Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Robert Ayers, and Damontre Moore competing for the spot. Regardless of who becomes the starter, all will play in the rotation as will second year man Kerry Wynn. Odighizuwa is raw but has the natural traits to become a star in time.
At tackle, one spot is locked up, and that belongs to Jonathan Hankins. He was the best all-around player on the Giants’ defensive line a year ago. Next to him will be either Kendrick Ellis or second year man Jay Bromley. Cullen Jenkins and Markus Kuhn also figure into the equation.
The linebacker corps will have a different look than a year ago. The new starters will be Devon Kennard at Sam and J.T. Thomas at Will. Kennard started six games as a rookie last year and fared well. Thomas, a former draft choice of the Bears, started for Jacksonville a year ago.
At Mike will be veteran Jon Beason. When healthy, Beason can be very good, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He only played four games a year ago. If Beason goes down, either Jameel McClain or Mark Herzlich will take over. Both have versatility in that they can play more than one linebacker position.
The Giants needed to address the safety position in the draft and did so by trading up in the second round to select Alabama’s Landon Collins. Many felt that Collins was the best safety in this year’s draft. Collins should line up on the strong side. At free safety, the favorite to start is second year man Nat Berhe. While Berhe is talented, he missed most of the offseason work. If he can’t go when camp begins, rookie Mykkele Thompson could get the nod.
The corners should be Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Amukamara missed eight games a year ago and Rodgers-Cromartie played hurt much of the season. Depth will come from the group of Josh Gordy, Chykie Brown, and Mike Harris. Brown may also get a look at safety.
Having spent over half my scouting career with the Giants, I would like nothing more than to see them back on top of the NFC East. There isn’t a better organization in the NFL to work for than the New York Giants.
While my heart wants the G-Men to do well, I just don’t see it happening. They don’t have the talent base that division rivals Philadelphia and Dallas have. If the Giants are going to be successful, Eli Manning has to be the player he was four years ago, and Steve Spagnuolo has to work magic with the defense. Going into training camp, I cant see the Giants finishing any better than third in the NFC East in 2015.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
In 2015, like most recent years, the road to the playoffs in the NFC North is through the Green Bay Packers. This is a difficult task. As long as the Packers have the duo of Mike McCarthy at Head Coach and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, the Packers will always be at or near the top of the NFC North. While the club may have some weaknesses, they are strong where they need to be strong.
At this stage of his career, Aaron Rodgers is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Other than durability, there isn’t a weakness to his game. He is athletic with excellent arm strength, and his ability to read defenses is second to none. Add that to uncanny accuracy, and it would be hard to find someone better.
The problem Green Bay has at the quarterback position is that they don’t have much behind Rodgers. This has been proven several times in the past when Rodgers has gone down. Scott Tolzien can’t be expected to win games. Rookie Brett Hundley from UCLA is an athlete with an excellent arm. It ends there. His game actually regressed from 2013 to 2014. While he has some excellent physical traits, he is not a good decision maker and lacks good instincts.
The duo of James Starks and Eddie Lacy has been very productive for the Pack. Lacy is an excellent between-the-tackles power runner, while Starks provides some big play ability. Both are very good receivers out of the backfield.
The Packers are one of the few teams that utilize a fullback and John Kuhn is one of the best. As good as Kuhn is, rookie Aaron Ripkowski will challenge Kuhn for a roster spot. Ripkowski was one of the better run blockers in college football a year ago.
The two starting receivers are excellent and know and understand the Green Bay system. Jordy Nelson is a big, physical guy with excellent hands and run-after-catch skills. Randall Cobb has the speed to get deep and, like Nelson, is excellent after the catch. Last year’s second round pick Davante Adams played well and had 38 receptions. He should take a jump in 2015 after being in the system a year.
The tight end position has always been strong in Green Bay. Right now, I don’t feel it is. Second-year man Richard Rodgers came on in the latter part of 2014, but I don’t see him as having anything special in his game. Andrew Quarless and Justin Perillo are just journeyman.
The Packers have their entire starting five back from a year ago. The tackles are Bryan Bulaga and Davis Bakhtiari. The guards are T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, and the center is Corey Lindsey. While the group isn’t physically imposing, and there isn’t a real dominating player among them, they play very well together, and all can pass block. Sitton is the most consistent and productive member of the O-Line.
Third year man J.C Tretter from Cornell was supposed to start last year at center but a preseason injury allowed Lindsey to play, and he isn’t about to give up his starting position. Tretter has position versatility and will be the first man in if any of the interior guys get injured. Don Barclay is the main tackle reserve.
The Packers were in danger of losing some key defensive lineman to free agency, but they were able to re-sign the key players.
Nose tackle B.J. Raji is excellent versus the run but doesn’t give much as a pass rusher. Letroy Guion is very consistent as an end and is equally good versus both run and pass. The best player on the defensive line is undersized Mike Daniels. Though he is only six feet tall, he plays hard and is very productive. He has 12 sacks over the last two seasons.
Datone Jones plays mostly in pass situations and has been effective as a pass rusher both inside and out. Mike Pennel and Josh Boyd will battle it out for the backup nose tackle position.
Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers uses his linebackers in a variety of ways, and he is capable of lining them up anywhere.
The lead player of the group is of course Clay Matthews. Matthews has spent most of his career outside but was moved inside midway through the season and played exceptionally. He brought more speed and athleticism to the position. Even when inside, he was still used as a pass rusher on passing downs.
No one quite knew how Julius Peppers would adjust to playing linebacker. While it took him a few games to adjust, he was his usual self the second half of the season. While he may be in his feet for base downs, he is still playing down in pass rush situations.
The starter opposite Matthews inside will be either Sam Barrington or Carl Bradford. Barrington started and played well at the end of last year. Rookie Jake Ryan from Michigan also has to play into the equation as he is very instinctive and productive. He could move ahead of Barrington or Bradford.
The other outside linebacker looks to be Nick Perry. The Packers did not pick up the fifth year option on his rookie contract so this is a make or break year for him. The key reserves who will get playtime are Mike Neal, who is very versatile, and Andy Mulumba.
If Ryan plays up to his potential, it may allow Capers to move Matthews back outside opposite Peppers, and that will really help the Green Bay pass rush. If that is the case, Ryan would start with either Barrington or Bradford inside.
The secondary lost some key people during the off season, and it remains to be seen how much of an effect it will have. Gone are former corner starter Tramon Williams and backup Davon House.
The replacement for Williams will most likely be Casey Hayward. Opposite Heyward may be one of two rookies. Top pick Damarious Randall played safety at Arizona State but has corner traits and played a lot of corner during OTAs. Second round pick Quinton Rollins from Miami (Ohio) also got some reps with the ones. Rollins, though inexperienced as a player, has great ball skills. Veteran Sam Shields also has to be in the equation.
At safety, the Packers have last year’s top rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at strong safety and Morgan Burnett at free. Green Bay would like more production from Burnett and one of the rookies (Rollins, Randall) could challenge him as they can also play safety.
The Packers may have lost some key players, but they still have a strong roster. Still, the key to their success will be the health of Rodgers. As long as he is the quarterback, the Packers will rule the division.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
Coming out of the Big Ten conference is a team that is trying to return back to their former glory, the Penn State Nittany Lions. Last season was an excellent year for the Lions as they went to their first bowl game since the end of their post-season ban. They also had a respectable 7-6 season but a disappointing 2-6 conference record. Let’s take a look at the outlook for their 2015 season:
The offense for the Nittany Lions last season was hard to watch to say the least. First, let’s look at their rushing game. Last season, only one running back was able to rush for over 100 yards in a game, and that was junior back, Akeel Lynch. The number one spot is unquestionably his, but the number two spot is still up for grabs between sophomores Mark Allen, Nick Scott, and Jonathan Thomas. The passing game has a rising star in its midst, a junior QB named Christian Hackenburg. Hackenburg is NFL material. He just has to be more of a consistent passer and make better decisions. Last season was rough for him as he threw for just under 3,000 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. The main target for Hackenburg will be DaeSean Hamilton. Thankfully, they have a deep WR staff this year to take the pressure off of Hamilton and reduce heavy coverage. The offensive line will also look to improve from an underwhelming season seeing as they gave up, on average, three sacks per game. The O-line does have a lot more experience and should be much better than last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions did an excellent job. Their run defense was one of the best at slowing down the rushing attack by allowing on average only 100.5 rushing yards per game (3rd in the nation) and 2.95 yards per carry (2nd in the nation). Senior Defensive Tackle and top draft prospect Anthony Zettel hopes to remain the anchor for this defense and keep those low run totals down. He will have some help on the interior from junior lineman Austin Johnson. Both of these guys are great inside and will be important to the pass rush and run defense for the Lions. The hardest part of heading into this new season will be replacing LB Mike Hull and his 140 tackles from last season. When you have a player that productive, he is hard to replace. The pass defense for Penn State was, likewise, great last season. They allowed on average only 178.2 passing yards per game. Their secondary is stacked, led by senior safety Jordan Lucas. Also, their corners have great depth and are tough for receivers to deal with. Expect the defense for the Lions to be suffocating once again this year.
Strength of Schedule: 5 out of 10
Penn State has a fairly soft schedule this season. They play a lot of low par teams this season at home (Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army, and Indiana). Also, they avoid top conference foes such as Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Iowa. The only reason I don’t give them a 4 out of 10 is because they do face Ohio State and Michigan State, both on the road. While both should be great games, the odds are not in their favor, and the Lions will likely lose those two matchups. On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions are set to have a suffocating defense, but with not knowing what to expect from the offense, this season is up in the air. I do expect Penn State to best last year’s 7 wins and go to a decent bowl game this year, but there is no chance of them winning the Big 10.
Three 2016 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch:
#14 QB, Christian Hackenberg, Junior—6’4”, 234 lbs
#98 DL, Anthony Zettel, Senior—6’4”, 274 lbs
#9 SS, Jordan Lucas, Senior—6’0”, 198 lbs
I realize that this topic can be the subject of debate and conversation. In saying that, when I made my list of the top running backs currently in the NFL, career production and the ability to sustain that top production were part of the criteria.
Durability and longevity are two criteria that go into making a back great. Having been part of 30 NFL drafts, I know that when a club drafts a running back, they are hoping that they can get four of five good years out of that player. The player getting to a second contract is almost an afterthought. The great ones have a way of staying healthy and being productive for a long period of time.
Adrian Peterson – Minnesota
In all my years of scouting, I don’t think I have ever seen a running back quite like Peterson. Most backs with his physical style don’t last long as the wear and tear on their bodies breaks them down long before they would want. That hasn’t been the case with Peterson. He has had his fair share of injuries, yet still comes back strong, and his play has not dropped off. He still has the speed and burst he had as a young back and still runs with a very violent style. He is one of the most punishing running backs in football.
Having missed most of the 2014 season because of off field issues, Peterson may just be better than ever. The year off has only given him a chance to rest his legs, and he should be in top form right from the get go. It would not surprise me to see him run for over 1500 yards in 2015.
Marshawn Lynch – Seattle
Like Peterson, Lynch is an extremely violent runner. He may even be more explosive on contact than A.P. It is my feeling that if it weren’t for Lynch, Russell Wilson would not be nearly as productive as he is. Having Lynch in the backfield keeps defenses honest and allows Wilson to do more.
This is Marshawn’s ninth year, yet the last four years have been his most productive. Over that time span, Lynch has run for 5357 yards for a 4.53 yards per carry average and 48 touchdowns. Like Peterson, he shows no signs of slowing down. Lynch has also been a very good receiver over that span with 124 receptions and nine touchdowns.
What I find amazing about Lynch is that he is not that big. He is listed as being 215, but he looks and plays much bigger. His durability over the last five seasons has been amazing, and he has not missed a game over the last three seasons.
LeSean McCoy – Buffalo
When McCoy came out of Pittsburgh for the 2009 draft, I had no idea he would be as productive for such a long period of time because of his build. He just isn’t a very big guy. He plays between 204-208 but looks like a 190 pound guy.
As small as he is, his durability has been excellent. He has missed only six games in six seasons and has never had a major injury. The worst injury he has had to deal with is a severe ankle sprain. That said, he should be able to play productively for at least another three years.
While Peterson and Lynch are power backs, McCoy is an elusive “scatback”. He can move laterally almost as quickly as he moves straight ahead. He has a rare burst, and his instincts are second to none.
As far as production, it’s top notch. In six years, he has run for 6792 yards and 44 touchdowns. He has also had 300 receptions for another 2282 yards and another 10 touchdowns.
I felt McCoy was a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, but obviously, Kelly didn’t feel the same way. It will be interesting to see how McCoy fares in Buffalo in a new scheme. Buffalo always seems to get production out of their backs.
Matt Forte – Chicago
This pick may surprise some, but in my opinion, there may not be a better all-around back in the league. Forte is a very good runner and an excellent receiver. He just may be the best receiver out of the backfield in the NFL. There is no back, other than McCoy, who compares with Forte as far as being able to both run and catch.
Forte has had a few injury issues, but he has always bounced back and been productive after. This will be Forte’s eighth season, and the former second round draft pick has run for 7,704 yards and 41 touchdowns. In that time, he has also caught 443 passes for another 3727 yards and 16 touchdowns. The 443 receptions is at the top as far as running backs go.
Forte has good size at about 6’2 – 218, but he isn’t a power back. He is more of a glider who has very good instincts, and he doesn’t take many big hits. While Lynch and Peterson are collision runners, Forte is the opposite.
At 29 years of age, Forte does not have many years left, but being on a John Fox coached team, you know he is going to have a very strong year. Fox has always had a way of making the running back a key part of the offense. Forte’s best year as a rusher was 1349 yards in 2013. He could top that this year.
DeMarco Murray – Philadelphia
I was a little hesitant at putting Murray in this slot, but after watching tape from last year, I feel that DeMarco is just beginning to come into his own. The beneficiary of that will be the Philadelphia Eagles as Murray should be able to put up some huge numbers in that offense. Granted, he won’t be playing behind the line he had in Dallas, but the Philly line is plenty good.
This will be Murray’s fifth year in the NFL. His first two years were average to say the least with him running for a total of 1560 yards in those two seasons. The last two years have been outstanding. In 2013, he ran for 1121 yards and nine touchdowns, while last year, he had 1845 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has also shown that he is a very good receiver out of the backfield with a career total of 171 receptions in four years. 110 of those catches have come in the last two seasons.
What I like about Murray is that he is a physical runner similar to both Lynch and Peterson, and he still should be able to improve his game. If he has a weakness, it’s that he fumbles a bit more than most would like.
Others that I thought about for this list were Frank Gore and Jamaal Charles. As good as Le’Veon Bell was in 2014, he still hasn’t done it over a period of time. He could be on this list in another year or two.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe