As for Cincinnati, even though top prospect defensive end Walter Stewart is out for the season, they still feature a host of talented defenders and an under-used yet talented receiver.
Mario Benavides, OC, Louisville - #66, 6’4, 300
While Benavides will need to overcome serious injury concerns, he'll also need to prove his athletic and powerful enough to hold his own on the inside. He keeps his focus well in pass protection with vision and pre-snap anticipation, and he locks his arms in extension well with good, not elite, hand strength. He really needs to stay quickler and lower off the snap in pass protection as well. He does pivot and redirect well as a run blocker. Without elite hand strength, athleticism, and injury concerns, Benavides really needs to maximize his abilities if he hopes to be a set draft pick come April.
Hakeem Smith, S, Louisville - #29, 6’1, 185 (JR)
The aggressive, rangy Smith is a possible early declaree, which may not be the best option for Smith. He's quick to the ball, aggressive in pursuit, and flashes the athletic upside to be molded to a variety of defenses, he'll need to continue to be stronger, show more ability in man pickup, react smoother in zone coverages as well. Still, most of his major concerns seem correctable, and with his upside, he could be an intriguing junior to watch moving forward. Drew Frey, S, Cincinnati - #26, 6'3, 212
Frey is an aggressive force in the run game from his strong safety spot, and his ideal size should have NFL teams somewhat intrigued. He attacks upfield well, both when he anticipates against the run and reacting to shorter passes. That combined with his fantastic tackling and force through his hits, and Frey intrigues certainly as an in-the box safety. But his lack of range, fluid hips in man pickup, and overaggression as he anticipates the run game make him more of a special teamer at best to start his NFL career.
Dan Giordano, DE, Cincinnati - #99, 6’4, 262
Giordano doesn't have elite athletic upside or consistent set of pass rush moves as an edge rusher. But in run support, he holds his position with a strong base, and widens his rush on stretch/outside runs to force the running back laterally. He gets good, not great extension, and could do better of initially fighting for hand placement on non-Wide 9 rushes. But off the edge, he fights well initally off the snap, is physical and explosive in his secondary rush, and has some dip and drive ability on the edge. He may not be a physical specimen, but his aggression, stoutness in run support, and explosive pops in pass rushing could make him a late rounder in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, Cincinnati - #7, 6’1, 196
While initially have some quietly high expectations for himself, Thompkins has struggled to become a meaningful part of the offense and has transformed from a sneaky athletic and quick hand shooter receiver to more of a blocker and situational target. He's developed as a blocker this season with added force and technique, but if he can't show receiving abilities outside of hitches, short breaking routes and the occasional red zone target, he'll struggle to be on NFL radars.
Louisville Others to Watch:
Alex Kuper, OG – #55, 6’3, 285
Adrian Bushell, CB - #21, 5’10, 190 Cincinnati Others to Watch:
Sean Hooey, OT - #77, 6’8, 298
Travis Kelce, TE - #18, 6’5, 255
Dominique Battle, CB - #9, 5’11, 185