Since I've long been exhausted myself on this year's prospects and see no point in talking in circles about it any longer, I always like to refresh myself by looking forward to next year's crop of talented players. The truth is, I'd rather watch 3 hours worth of games on college prospects than sit through 3 hours of a Dolphins game. That's just me.
This is a thread that I'll use to talk about some of my personal favorites for the 2013 class....
Whenever I want to look for talented but potentially very underrated college defensive players, I always like to start in Starkville. Mississippi St. never lets me down in this aspect, as I always find gems there. I found Fletcher Cox there almost a year ago before anyone other than his parents even knew who he was. Trace it back to kids like Pernell McPhee, K.J. Wright, etc... even Fred Smoot.
One kid who constantly popped off the screen for me over the past 2 seasons for Mississippi St. in the secondary is a kid by the name of Nickoe Whitley....
Let me make this perfectly clear.... this kid is without a doubt one of the most violent hitters and explosive tacklers that I've ever seen patrol the secondary of a defense in the SEC. He was only a redshirt sophomore this past season, and missed the last 4 or 5 games of the season with an achilles injury, and so far during the spring he's been held out of spring practice while he continues to heal. He'll be ready for fall camp and to resume his role as the enforcer in the Bulldogs' secondary come September.
He's such an explosive and violent hitter, that I've listened to receivers and coaches talk about how they had to scale him back in practice in the past in order for Dan Mullen and coach Koenning to run their offense. Receivers Arceto Clark and Chad Bumphis were afraid to catch passes over the middle in practice due to Whitley knocking their helmets off.
Whitley redshirted his first year on campus before taking over and starting 11 games as a freshman and earning SEC All-Freshman Honors. In addition to his devastating hitting power and precise control he exhibits in his striking (putting his hat on the football) which leads to forced fumbles, he also possesses excellent range and ball skills. He's already accumulated 7 interceptions in only 20 starts.
He'll be a redshirt Junior this upcoming season and I think he'll probably go ahead and enter 2013 draft as an underclassmen, although that's strictly my assumption.
Here's a few clips that illustrate his rare combination of ball skills, range, and devastating hitting power, along with the precision in which he uses his ability to strike in order to put balls on the carpet, and ball carriers out of the game.
This is probably the part that best sums up his physicality and explosive ability as a striker. On the first play here vs. Kentucky, he comes up and takes out a 300+ pound pulling guard in open space by the name of Larry Warford, knocking his helmet off and knocking him clean to the ground.... and still comes off to make the tackle on the ball carrier and force a fumble. You just don't see this type of ability out of a safety.
The following play, La'Rod King tries to make a move on him with the ball in his hands in the open field, but with no success. Whitley comes in full speed and puts a precise strike on the football to cause yet another fumble.
Less than 3 minutes into this game, he's been in on 2 tackles, forced 2 fumbles, resulting in both players leaving the game for a short period:
This is the new breed of safety that you don't come across often. The combination of ball skills, explosive and accurate striking, and ability to cause turnovers makes him a rare breed of safety. The type of kid that teams look for to play in a Quarters coverage who can force turnovers both by coverage downfield, and in run support.
I look for him to be one of the best defensive backs in all of college football this upcoming season. In fact, along with Corey Broomfield and Johnthan Banks, Mississippi St. has one of the best secondaries in the entire country... perhaps the best in the SEC. That's saying something.