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January 29, 2001
Taking Stock of the Stock
by Jimmy Mohr
Michael Vick was the biggest, but by no means best name taken off the Texans’ draft board recently when he and 36 other underclassmen declared for this year’s NFL draft. Also lost were WR David Terrell, OL Kenyetta Walker, C Dominic Raiola and CB Jamar Fletcher. Each had the potential, with another year of seasoning, to be at the top of Houston’s wish list next April. Their departure also robbed the 2002 draft, which was shaping up to be one of the deepest in recent memory, of some of its depth.
But that’s not to say that all was lost. There’s still some good talent scheduled to be available next year, though, admittedly, it’s talent that’s still very raw (most of these guys will only be juniors). Guys like Miami OL Joaquin Gonzalez, Oregon State RB Ken Simonton, LSU WR Josh Reed and Clemson LB Levar Fisher could all fight their way into the 2002 mix with strong seasons that build on the flashes of potential they showed this past year.
But for now, here’s a look at the nine best players from last year’s NCAA season that Texan fans should be watching in 2001. And remember, a lot can happen in a year. These guys are by no means locks to still be hot commodities next April.
Drew Henson (6’4″, 219), QB, Michigan
STATS: 1999: 47/90, 546 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT
; 2000: 146/237, 2,146 yards, 18 TD, 4 INT
The highly-touted, all-world Henson was named Michigan’s starter in August, and promptly broke a bone in his foot, costing him the first three games, plus a month after that in which he played at less than 100%. Still, he delivered on some of his promise, at one point throwing 192 passes without an interception.
A tremendous athlete, Henson’s the prototypical pocket passer, and he’s very smart, having been named twice to the Big Ten’s All-Academic team. His coaches marvel at his intestinal fortitude, as well as his maturity, and he’ll need both in 2001, as Michigan lost three starting offensive linemen, including All-American Steve Hutchinson, All-American WR David Terrell and RB Anthony Thomas, to the NFL draft.
If Henson has a weaknesses on the field, it’s that he only has average speed. And thus far, he’s still raw and unpolished, having started only 8 games in his career. More problematic, he’s a budding baseball star, having split time the past two years between Ann Arbor and the Yankees/Reds’ farm system, costing him valuable spring practice time. He’s good enough to not only play, but thrive at either sport, and could double-screw Houston by opting to play baseball in Cincinnati, leaving him off the Texans, and in the Astros’ division.
Ken Dorsey (6’5″, 200), QB, Miami
STATS: 1999: 74/120, 807 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT; 2000: 210/362, 3,007 yards, 28 TD, 7 INT
Dorsey was remarkable in 2000, leading the Hurricanes to a #2 ranking, with victories over top-ranked Florida State, and top 10 teams Virginia Tech and Florida. In fact, in four games against ranked teams this year (Washington, #3, final AP; Florida St., #5; Virginia Tech, #6 and Florida, #10), Miami went 3-1, with Dorsey a combined 75/139 (54%), with 1,096 yards, 9 TD’s and only 2 interceptions.
Dorsey’s an accurate passer with a strong arm and a quick release. He’s a student of the game who, lately, has hit the weight room, which is good, because he’s a bit slight at only 200 pounds. Offensive coordinator Larry Coker considers Dorsey one of the most intelligent quarterbacks he has ever coached (which includes Kosar, and Heisman winners Testaverde and Toretta). Like Henson, he’s still young and raw.
Damien Anderson (5’11”, 208), RB, Northwestern
STATS: 1999: 306/1,128 yards, 3 TD, 3.69 avg.; 2000: 311/2,063 yards (#2 in nation), 23 TD, 6.63 avg.
Anderson rushed for 1,549 yards (193.7 avg.) in Big Ten play thisyear, shattering the previous record of 1,470 (183.7) held by former Oiler Lorenzo White, helping Anderson to a fifth place finish in this year’s Heisman voting.
Anderson possesses a tremendous combination of power and speed; he runs a 4.4/40 and even as he continues to bulk up (he’s added 18 pounds to his frame since his senior year of high school), he hasn’t lost any of his speed. A workhorse, Anderson loves to run between the tackles, and is not afraid of contact, though in 2000, he also showed the capacity to break a game open with a long run. As proof, he went over 200 yards four times thisyear. If he has a drawback, it’s that he plays in a gimmicky, wide-open offense that allows him huge lanes to travel between. But it’s a minor concern — he’s a major talent.
Lee Suggs (6’0″, 207), RB, Virginia Tech
STATS: 1999: 44/136 yards, 2 TD, 3.1 avg.; 2000: 242/1,280 yards, 30 TD, 5.29 avg.
For all the talk about Michael Vick, it was Suggs who won the Dudley Award this year, given to Virginia’s top college football player, and it was Suggs, not Vick, sharing co-Big East Player of the Year honors.
That’s because the fleet-footed, super-talented Suggs picked up where injuries and inconsistency from Vick left off. And while his 30 rushing touchdowns are a bit misleading (not only did Vick miss time, thus giving Suggs more opportunities, but 9 came against non-powers Central Florida and Rutgers), his improvement was not. Suggs ran a 4.2/40 during spring workouts, and made tremendous strides in both his blocking and receiving skills. Suggs is a fierce competitor and a hard worker, and has shown he has both the aptitude and the desire to get better. He’s packed on 45 pounds since coming to Tech, and can either beat his man to the outside, or run over him. The potential is limitless.
Antonio Bryant (6’2″, 185), WR, Pittsburgh
STATS: 1999: 51/844 yards, 6 TD, 16.5 avg.; 2000: 73/1,457 yards, 13 TD, 20.0 avg.
This one’s pretty easy: in 2000, Bryant broke two of Marvin Harrison’s Big East conference records — most receiving yards in a season, and most average yards per game (130.3). I think it’s safe to call Harrison a major NFL talent, right?
The University of Pittsburgh hasn’t been this jazzed about an offensive weapon since Dan Marino roamed the sidelines. Bryant has the speed, size and big-play skills to play on Sundays, and (here’s the scary part), the guy’s only a sophomore, so he should get better. Perhaps most remarkable, he’s been able to accomplish all this (Biletnikoff Award winner, first-team All-American) with unsettled and inconsistent play from the quarterback position. A down-to-earth guy who graduated from high school with academic honors, Bryant is being talked about as a Heisman Trophy candidate in 2001.
Bryant McKinnie (6’9″, 330), OT, Miami
STATS: 0 QB sacks allowed, first team All-American
McKinnie, who’s big, and getting bigger, completed just his fifth year of organized football thisyear, which means, as good as he is now (an unquestionable first round pick), he should only get better.
More than just a large man, McKinnie’s also physically gifted and one of the smartest players on Miami’s roster. Still raw, coaches saw improvement in virtually every one of his games last year, and are continually amazed at both his quickness and agility. He’s a better pass-protector than run-blocker right now, though none of Miami’s coaches are worried about his development, physically, or mentally. By this time next year, Bryant could be the cream of the 2002 crop.
“He can do technical and mechanical things wrong and still block the crap out of you,” says Art Kehoe, the Hurricanes’ offensive line coach. “I don’t know what’s around the country, but what I’ve seen … I can’t imagine that there are guys in the country much better than him.”
John Henderson (6’7″, 290), DL, Tennessee
STATS: 2000: 12 sacks, 71 total tackles (21 for loss), 4 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries, 9 quarterback pressures
Henderson had a tremendous 2000 season, prompting many to compare him favorably to another Volunteer lineman, Reggie White. In fact, head coach Phil Fulmer thinks Henderson will surpass White when his career’s done in Knoxville.
Henderson led the SEC is sacks and tackles for loss last year, and helped anchor one of the nation’s best defense at stopping the run (only three of the Vols’ 11 opponents reached 100 yards on the ground). For his efforts, Henderson won the Outland Trophy, given to college football’s best interior lineman.
Coaches love his work ethic, never on greater display than after Nebraska ran all over Tennessee in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. Henderson came to spring drills dedicated to making amends, and rallied the defense around his commitment, showing he also possesses tremendous leadership skills. In a conference known for pass rushing down linemen, Henderson was the SEC’s best last year.
Julius Peppers (6’6″, 270), DE, North Carolina
STATS: 2000: 15 sacks (#1 in nation), 64 tackles (24 for loss), 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 24 quarterback pressures
When Peppers isn’t leading the Tar Heel basketball team to the NCAA Final Four, he’s harassing ACC quarterbacks with reckless abandon, coming within a sack last year of tying ex-Tar Heel Lawrence Taylor’s single-season record.
A freshman All-American in 1999 (he led the Tar Heels in sacks and tackles for loss), Peppers is a physical marvel (6.1% body fat and 35.5″ vertical leap), who uses both his speed and incredible endurance to play all-out, non-stop football from whistle-to-whistle. Peppers has the ability to change directions, rush the passer and pursue the ball, possessing surprising agility for a man his size. He missed all of spring workouts playing basketball and still improved his game tremendously.
Lito Sheppard (5’10”, 196), CB, Florida
STATS: 2000: 6 interceptions
One of the most prolific, and heavily recruited athletes in Florida high school history, Sheppard finally became a regular starter in 2000 as a sophomore. He has a natural knack for not only being around the ball, but knowing what to do once he gets there. A receiver in high school, Sheppard plays with a cool confidence and fierce competitiveness that fuel his limitless athleticism. It doesn’t hurt that he practices daily against two of the nation’s brightest up-and-coming receivers (Jabar Gafney and Reche Caldwell, two more guys to keep an eye on).
The Gators have brought Sheppard along slowly and worked extensively to develop his mental approach to the game. And he drew raves this year for the strides he’s made. Sheppard picked off an SEC-best six passes while leading the SEC in average punt return yardage (13.95). He returned both a punt and an interception for touchdowns (showcasing his big play ability), and had at least two picks that turned likely losses into wins.
Though he refuses to admit it, Jimmy Mohr’s entire scouting process involves firing up NCAA Gamebreaker 2001 for PlayStation 2. Prior to joining the HPF.com staff, Jimmy was a prolific heckler, once drawing the ire of the entire Oklahoma Sooner men’s basketball team, who graciously asked that he meet them behind G. Rolie White.