Underclassmen update – 7/11/13

image: © Neon Tommy

image: © Neon Tommy

UCLA sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, looks set to return to school for his Junior year – a decision which should be applauded. According to sources close to Tony Pauline of Draft Insider, Hundley will play for the Bruins in 2014 and stands an excellent chance of becoming the first UCLA quarterback to be selected first overall since Troy Aikman in 1989.

Hundley has shown himself to be capable of making those all important down-field passes, but does have a nasty tendency of misplacing at least a handful of passes every game. He’s also prone to locking onto his receiver targets far too early and NFL level defensive backs will be all over that if he doesn’t clean up his game and learn to work through his progressions. Another year behind what is becoming a sturdy O-line should do him the world of good.

Two underclassmen that reportedly think they are ready for a shot at the pros are Florida State junior running backs James Wilder Jr and Davonta Freeman and according to the former, both may enter the 2014 draft. In a tale reminiscent of the 2004 Auburn Tigers team, both backs have a chance to be selected high (although 8 years on from the 2005 draft, it’s unlikely they go in round one) both Freeman and Wilder have set the ACC alight, combining for more than 900 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season so far.

Freeman, the better prospect, has shown excellent motor and elusiveness all over the field due to some wonderful footwork. Also noteworthy is his ball security, which has improved from a rather shaky 2012 campaign.

Wilder’s draft stock will be determined on his development off the field. Problems with the law have held Wilder back but the biggest obstacle to his progress has been a shoulder injury that has refused to go away. Wilder’s ability as a between the tackles running back is clear to see, he drags defenders with him and has shown himself capable of holding onto the ball despite having scant regard for ball security. More impressive is his ability as a blocker which more than makes up for his like of top-end speed. Many teams will like what he can offer but without Freeman competing for carries, Wilder would do well to consider another year in Tallahassee.

Continuing with the running back theme, it seems likely that Melvin Gordon will be returning the Wisconsin and has set himself the modest task of winning the 2014 Heisman Trophy.

Having already racked up 1074 yards and 11 touchdowns for an average of nearly 9 yards per carry, Gordon stands a chance of doing something truly remarkable next year so his decision to come back is understandable. It’s also understandable that Gordon will see the success of 2013 mid and late rounders Andre Ellington, LeVeon Bell and Zac Stacy and think (correctly) that NFL teams will not be in a huge hurry to take a running back early in the draft. Adding a Heisman would definitely help Gordon to distinguish himself from his peers.

However, all this comes with a downside. Gordon’s number one problem (apart from his inability to contribute in the passing game) is his injury record. The beneficiary of a medical redshirt in his freshmen year, Gordon’s durability will be cause of much scrutiny. As Gordon split carries in 2012 with Montee Ball, 2013 represents Gordon’s first year as a starter and if there is even the slightest hint of a reoccurring injury, scouts will be out of Madison quicker than you can say “Marcus Lattimore”.  Gordon may want a run at the Heisman but a running back’s career is short. If he has any sense, he should consider entering the draft in 2014 and guaranteeing himself a decent payday.

Finally, Tony Pauline (again) reported last week that Clemson pass rusher, Vic Beasley, is likely to declare for 2014 draft. Whilst this ranks slightly behind “day following night” in the Big List of Unremarkable Stories, it does provide a good chance to look a Beasley.

Suffice to say the Tigers’ edge rusher has had a brilliant junior campaign, rattling up 10 sacks on the year including impressive displays against Georgia, NC State and Syracuse.

Beasley isn’t the most physically imposing pass rusher coming out and when stood next to Javedeon Clowney or Trent Murphy, he will appear undersized and will draw comparisons to Jarvis Jones. Despite this, his fit in a 3-4 as an outline linebacker will still make him a highly coveted prospect. Beasley has looked phenomenal bending the edge and has a rare explosiveness that has been foxing opposition linemen all year. Despite inadequate arm length, Beasley has looked great when chasing down quarterbacks and has shown the ability to swim past most offensive tackles he’s faced but importantly, he also looks solid defending the pass in coverage. Whilst at 6’2” he might not be an ideal matchup against the basketball-reject tight ends, his natural speed and ability to read the game should keep him in contention.

At present, Kiper ranks Beasley in his top 10 prospects and although this seems a little too high for a guy with only one year under his belt as a starter, it’s hard to see him drifting outside of the first round. Whilst he may not come in a start immediately, it’s easy to see a team getting production out of Beasley as part of a rotation. An early declaration is expected and frankly after the year he’s having, it’s openly encouraged.

Check back for more Underclassmen updates when we have them. James can also be found tweeting at @snl_football.

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