Though the NFL draft is still months away, the college football season looms just around the corner. So, with that in mind, Audibles is taking a look at one intriguing draft prospect from each FBS team. Read the previous posts here.
Big 12 teams absolutely lit up the scoreboard last season. Every squad save for Kansas topped 50 at least once, five teams hung at least 60, and two (West Virginia, 70 vs. Kansas; Oklahoma State, 83 vs. Savannah State) ascended to the 70-point barrier.
It feels a little unusual, then, to focus less on skill positions atop our Big 12 draft preview and more on the interior line and the secondary. But those are the spots we find three of the most intriguing NFL prospects in this entire conference.
Leading off is Baylor guard Cyril Richardson, who could be for the 2014 draft what Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper were in 2013. Richardson may not have the off-the-charts talents the guards of this past draft class did on paper, but he is a mauling lineman, standing 6-foot-5 and 335 pounds. After the elite tackles come off the board, Richardson could lead the charge for the rest of the offensive line.
The conference's defensive backs will be paced by potential first-rounder Jason Verrett of TCU, a player with lock-down capabilities on the corner and a knack for creating interceptions; and versatile Oklahoma Sooner Aaron Colvin, who will entice teams as both a CB and a safety.
There again will be talent all over the field in the exciting Big 12, and Richardson, Verrett and Colvin could be the first three players from this conference off the board in May. Here's an early glance at some other names to watch:
Baylor: Lache Seastrunk, RB.
Could Seastrunk ascend to the top of the 2014 RB class? Maybe, but his entire resume right now is basically built on the final six games on 2013, in which he rushed for 831 yards as part of Baylor's explosive attack. Before that, Seastrunk sat on the bench at Oregon, transferred and then struggled to crack the Bears' lineup.
Now that he's a fixture in the latter spot, he'll enter this season as one of the more intriguing players to watch across all of college football. Seastrunk has home-run ability and maintains it despite carrying a sturdy 210 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame. He also barely registered a blip -- nine receptions -- in Baylor's passing attack.
One of the most prevalent knocks on Seastrunk: He always wants the huge play, so he will takes losses in search of it rather than churn out a couple of yards. Of course, Barry Sanders made quite a living with a similar approach, so it's hardly a deal-breaker.
Iowa State: Ernst Brun, TE.
Another player who took a roundabout way into the draft conversation, Brun played for Mt. San Antonio Community College before arriving in Ames. He had 26 grabs in 2012, his first on Iowa State's active roster, culminating in a 102-yard showing in the Liberty Bowl.
Brun (6-3, 231) could be in line for a breakout season. Iowa State's coaching staff has talked about using him more in the slot, and though he doesn't have the height of, say, 2013 draft picks Tyler Eifert or Zach Ertz, he's more than capable of -- and plenty big enough to -- create mismatches.
Kansas: Aslam Sterling, OT.
The Jayhawks list the 6-5 Sterling at 315 pounds, down a whopping 85 pounds from where he was after transferring to Kansas from Nassau C.C., prior to 2012. Sterling split time between guard and tackle in the starting lineup last season, with the tackle spot looking to be his home this season. His NFL future, should there be one, might take him back in the other direction, back to guard (and up a few pounds again).
Kansas State: Ty Zimmerman, S.
Don't be surprised if a few NFL teams fall in love here. Zimmerman (6-1, 204) shows the instincts from safety that could make him successful at the next level, and his ability to react seemingly allows him to outplay his athletic gifts. He had seven pass break-ups last season and five interceptions, including one in four consecutive games.
If there is a problem here it is that Zimmerman's tape is inconsistent. One play, he'll be jumping a route or flying up to cut off a runner; the next, he'll be whiffing on a tackle or getting himself turned around in coverage. He may not have the physical gifts to make up for those miscues at the NFL level.
Oklahoma: Trey Millard, FB.
Pegging the 6-2, 253-pound Millard as a fullback does a bit of injustice to his game. He is really more of an H-back sort of player, and he could fill that versatile role at the next level. Millard has averaged just 27 rush attempts over his first three seasons with the Sooners, but he has a 5.4 yards-per-carry clip and has 59 career receptions. Add in his ability to block and impressive size, and projecting Millard out to an NFL roster is a natural leap.
In fact, Millard almost headed pro after his junior season. He filed paperwork with the NFL's draft advisory board prior to the 2013 draft, only to head back to school after picking up a late-round grade.
Oklahoma State: Tracy Moore, WR.
As is the case with former Oklahoma State teammate Justin Blackmon, there is both good and bad here. First, the positives: Moore, at 6-2, 215, uses his body well and doesn't mind playing a physical game outside. He had 45 catches in 2011 and appeared primed for a huge 2012, only to be saddled with an ankle injury, which led to him picking up a medical redshirt and a fifth year of eligibility. Moore possesses obvious NFL ability as a receiver.
But, the negatives: Moore's injury was the cherry on top of a brutal year, in which he also had three separate run-ins with the law. There will be pressing and repeated questions about his maturity following him into the draft next season, assuming he can get through 2013 without another slip-up.
TCU: Casey Pachall, QB.
I guess we've officially reached the "character concerns" portion of our Big 12 preview. Moore managed to stick on Oklahoma State's roster despite his off-field troubles; Pachall was not so fortunate. The talented TCU quarterback was arrested in October, suspended and then left the team to enter substance abuse rehab. No matter what happens this season, that saga will be front and center for Pachall if he tries to move to the next level.
Hopefully, Pachall can continue to get his life back on track, because the football talent is there. Pachall still has a great deal of upside, even with a 66.4 career completion percentage and a 36:8 touchdown-to-interception differential. Should he mature as a passer and decision-maker, his size (6-4), athleticism and toughness are NFL-worthy traits.
Texas: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE.
How high can Jeffcoat climb? That's the question heading into 2013 for the Texas senior, who has 13.0 career sacks, 30.5 tackles for loss and fits the prototype for an NFL edge rusher. The answer may depend on how well Jeffcoat shows himself as an all-around talent in 2013.
The 6-5, 245-pound senior can get into the backfield and is capable of dropping into coverage, too. There are places he can improve in both skills, however, with the results over the next year determining whether he's viewed as a 4-3 end or 3-4 OLB at the next level. He may fit that hybrid role between the two -- like a "Leo" in Seattle's scheme.
Texas Tech: Eric Ward, WR.
There were some rumblings after last season that Ward was considering trying his luck in the 2013 draft. He returned to school for his senior year instead, and he may reap the benefits could next May. Ward enters his final year with the Red Raiders 1,212 yards shy of the school's all-time receiving record. He racked up 1,053 yards and 12 TDs on 83 catches last season, so that number is within reach.
Every Texas Tech offensive player has to fight the stigma that he's a "system" creation upon entering the NFL, and Ward (6-0, 205) ought to be able to do that successfully given his blend of talents. He has shown an innate ability to make catches in traffic, even against tight coverage. He can run after the catch, too, and seems to have a nice grasp on routes. Speed and size limitations may knock him to Day 2 or 3, but he should be a productive NFL player.
West Virginia: Will Clarke, DT. The pros on Clarke start with his willingness to work -- he's a three-time Iron Mountaineer honoree, for what the program dubs "excellence in the weight room." Clarke is listed at 6-7, 273, up about 40 pounds from when he arrived in Morgantown. Clarke has played in a 3-4 (or 3-3-5) front for the majority of his time at West Virginia, and he could find an NFL home either as a DE in that set or as a DT in a 4-3. Though he has decent athleticism, Clarke may not be quick enough to bounce out to a rush-end role.