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April 21, 2010

Ask Jamie: Draft talk

Jamie Newberg is a football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. He tackles your questions in his weekly mailbag feature.
Previous mailbags:
April 14: Longhorns looking outside?
April 7: Will the 'Canes bounce back?
Mar 31: Ohio's best in 2011?

Got a question? Click here to send it to Jamie's Mailbag

Jimmy Clausen was the No. 1 prospect in the 2007 Rivals100. Is he one of the top-five prospects in this year's NFL Draft?

Are the Georgia Bulldogs missing out on too many in-state prospects? How good is Class of 2012 back Matt Jones?

Find out in this week's mailbag.

Ready for the NFL

You saw them in high school and in college. Who do you see as the top five prospects in the NFL draft? Also, how would you rate the quarterbacks?

- William from Omaha, Neb.

I have always been a huge NFL draft guy. As a kid and a lifelong Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan, the draft was the only thing I had to look forward to because my Bucs were so bad. So when I stumbled into recruiting in the early 1990s, it seemed so natural to me.

How do I see things Thursday? For starters, I do not agree with the experts about Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. While he has upside in the NFL, I do not believe he is the top-rated guy.

I'll get to that in a second. Let's address this quarterback issue first. I firmly believe Bradford, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy will all struggle, especially early in their professional careers. It's not because of their lack of physical abilities or football intellect. I think this trio will struggle because they never played under center during their college (and high school) careers.


Asking them to adjust now is going to take time. Heck, they may not ever feel comfortable doing it. And until they do, they will be hardened by NFL defenses.

The spread is killing the professional quarterback. You don't line up in the shotgun on every play in the NFL. Drops, finding the safety and all the other intricacies after the snap will have to be fine-tuned on the next level. Learning to play under center comfortably will take time for guys groomed in the shotgun.

That's why I think Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen is the top-rated quarterback. While he has his own share of weaknesses, I believe playing in Charlie Weis' system prepared Clausen for the NFL better than any QB who played in a spread offense. If I were the Rams, I would try to trade out of the top spot and draft him a little later in the first round.

So who are the top five prospects in this year's draft?

1) Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
While I don't see him going No. 1 overall, I think this defensive tackle is the best NFL prospect.

2) Eric Berry, Tennessee
Berry is an instant-impact player and the best safety to enter the draft since Sean Taylor. But do you take a safety this high?

3) Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma
McCoy is not as strong and powerful as Suh, but he's quicker and faster. McCoy should be an excellent penetrating three-technique defensive tackle for someone.

4) Russell Okung, Oklahoma State
He is your prototype offensive tackle that an NFL team can pencil in for a long time in its starting lineup.

5) C.J. Spiller, Clemson
Spiller will never go this high, but I believe he brings even more intangibles, athleticism and versatility to the table than Titans star running back Chris Johnson. For what it's worth, I thought Spiller was college football's top offensive player in 2009.

Keeping them home

Do you think Georgia should be concerned that it's losing ground in its backyard with recruiting? It seems like many of the better prospects are leaving the state.

- James from Sandy Spring, Ga.

What is all this nonsense I keep hearing about what's going on with Georgia and the recruits in its backyard? People are blowing this way out of proportion, believing the Bulldogs have lost their stranglehold on in-state recruiting.

Have they? No.

Maybe this all stems from last season, as Georgia failed to sign top in-state prospects like Da'Rick Rogers (Tennessee), Jeffrey Whitaker (Auburn) and Jawuan James (Tennessee). Those are three prospects the Bulldogs really wanted and failed to sign.

That's three big hits against Georgia. But you know what? Sometimes you have years like that. Ohio State did with this past class. So did Miami.

The bottom line is that every program out there loses prospects from its backyard. And, yes, it stings when these kids go to your bitter rivals.

So if you want to make a case that Georgia is slipping in its backyard, what do you say about the Bulldogs' out-of-state recruiting? I believe it has improved drastically over the past several seasons. Matthew Stafford (Texas), Knowshon Moreno (New Jersey) and A.J. Green (South Carolina), arguably the top three Georgia players of late, were all out-of-state signees. Last season Georgia beat Florida and USC for the top offensive line prospect from the Sunshine State in Brent Benedict. The year before the Dawgs landed quarterback Aaron Murray and his teammate Orson Charles from Tampa, Fla. When he's healthy, Trinton Sturdivant (North Carolina) is their top offensive lineman. The point is Georgia has ramped up its out-of-state recruiting.

Why have things gotten tougher in Georgia? First, the Peach State is blessed with an abundance of talent. Typically, 150-plus prospects from Georgia play big-time college football. So of that group, the Dawgs have to make sure they are evaluating and recruiting the right guys for them.

Second, Georgia is right in the middle of SEC country, where all its conference members cherry pick some great players. Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, LSU and others in the league all heavily recruit the state, as do other football powers outside the SEC like Clemson, Florida State and others. And don't forget about Georgia Tech and the commitment it has made in recruiting in the Peach State under Paul Johnson.

Just about everyone recruits the state of Georgia. And most, if not all of these staffs, have surrounded themselves with outstanding recruiters. To make matters even more difficult for the Bulldogs, you have programs on the upswing like Georgia Tech, Clemson, Alabama and Florida State.

Put this all together, and it makes for a tough recruiting environment. But what else is new? It's no different in the Sunshine State or in California.

Let's look at the numbers. Ninety-five Class of 2011 prospects from the state of Georgia have been offered scholarships. The Bulldogs have offered 27 and have six commitments. (I might add they are six good ones.) In total, 15 players from Georgia have committed, and the Dawgs have lost two they have offered: linebacker Shannon Brown (Alabama) and linebacker Terrance Smith(FSU).

More good players will elect to go elsewhere. There are far too many good programs out there, and Georgia can't get all the in-state recruits. Heck, the Bulldogs could once again lose the top player in the state. Running back Isaiah Crowell may end up at Clemson or somewhere else. Georgia also could lose tight end Jay Rome. But coach Mark Richt and his revamped staff will still do very well.

The bottom line is recruiting is just brutal. Sure, there are some really good players leaving the state, but that's the nature of the beast. On the flip side, Georgia is doing well broadening its reach.

I'm sure Richt isn't happy about the way things turned out on National Signing Day. I would also imagine that a revamped and re-energized staff will once again push Georgia into the top 10 nationally in 2011. Georgia recruits too well, both in and out of state, to have two "off" years in a row.

One to watch

What do you know about rising junior running back Matt Jones?

- Larry from Palmetto, Fla.

Jones will be one of the top prospects in Florida - and in the country - for the Class of 2012. Jones is every bit of a running back prospect as James Wilder Jr..

Yes, you read that correctly.

Already 17 years old, Jones is ahead of his peers. He's 6-3 and 217 pounds and is a grown man on the football field. What I love most about Jones is that he's a throwback - a pure north-south power runner with good speed. I saw him play last season against a very good Tampa (Fla.) Hillsborough team, and he was very impressive for Seffner Armwood.

Who's the early team to beat for Jones? Right now he says Georgia is his top dog. He currently holds verbal offers from Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. In a few months he will hold written offers from just about every team in the college game.

This kid is that good.

Jamie Newberg is a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Click here to send him a question or comment for his mailbag.

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