The DA Draft Buzz: December 19

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Tony Pauline

Draft Analyst Writer

The bowl season has kicked off, and the news impacting the NFL draft is getting more intense. Here’s the latest on two of the best offensive-tackle prospects no one is mentioning as well as notes on scouts who attended the New Orleans Bowl this past Saturday.

The video tape of Joe Mixon punching an Oklahoma student has garnered the lion’s share of the headlines and many are asking, “What’s next?” For months now, I’ve been informed the OU running back was leaning towards entering the draft, as those in his inner circle asked for my opinion. I was consistently steadfast in my belief Mixon should return to Oklahoma for a variety of reasons. Since the release of the video, general managers around the league have told those close to Mixon he won’t get drafted, there’s a possibility he won’t be signed as a free agent and he may not even receive an invitation to the combine should he declare for the draft.

His best and possibly only option at this point is returning to Oklahoma, if that’s even possible. There were two consistent themes throughout my conversations on the topic this weekend: Mixon was given bad advice staying silent over the issue and it would’ve been better had the tape been released two years ago.

Two offensive tackles few are talking about could impact the position next April -- Antonio Garcia of Troy and Martinas Rankin of Mississippi State.

I broke down Garcia’s film last week and was incredibly impressed. At 6-6, he offers great length, athleticism and footwork. He’s a solid technician that plays nasty football and shows tremendous skill in pass protection. Garcia is an average run blocker and needs to improve the strength of his base. I later fielded additional opinions on Garcia and was shocked to find how highly regarded he is around the league.

Several teams grade him as one of the top three offensive tackles in the draft, with one team believing he’s the best offensive tackle from the senior class. The next month is critical for Garcia, as this Friday he faces off against Tarell Basham when Troy meets Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl. This will be one of the better battles between top-rated prospects during the entire bowl season. Garcia is also slated to play in the Senior Bowl in January, as is Basham.

Almost no one talks about JUCO transfer Martinas Rankin, who lined up on the left side for Mississippi State this year. According to scouts, Rankin lined up against seven potential top-75 picks -- Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams of Alabama, Arden Key of LSU, Carl Lawson of Auburn, Daeshon Hall of Texas A&M and Marquis Haynes of Mississippi -- and gave up just 1.5 sacks. Teams feel if Rankin enters the draft he projects as a top-75 selection.

Staying on the theme of offensive tackles, I’m told Ryan Ramczyk -- presently ranked second at the position on our board -- will wait until after the bowl game before making a definitive decision on entering the draft. Many I spoke with, including a former NFL lineman now in the scouting business, compare Ramczyk’s skills to Joe Thomas. A few have told me they believe Ramczyk will enter the draft.

Seventeen scouts took in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday night, and most were on hand to watch Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah McGuire, Rajin’ Cajun receiver Al Riles and defensive lineman Xavier Thigpen of Southern Mississippi.

Scouts were blown away with the athleticism and quickness of Thigpen. The junior struggled with an ankle injury through a good part of last season, which depressed his production. Sources close to the situation tell me they feel it’s about 90 percent that Thigpen enters the draft and that he’ll put up freakish numbers if invited to the combine.

Riles is a bit of a sleeper at the receiver position. Not graded by scouts entering the season, he finished the year with 60 receptions, 729 yards and two scores.  Characterized as a possession wideout, he presently ranks as a late-round prospect.

When all is said and done, people feel as many as 22 Michigan Wolverines will be in NFL camps next year -- the result of being drafted next April or signing as undrafted free agents immediately afterwards.

From the coaching front, Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck is still the hot name despite being bypassed for the big jobs that were recently filled. Rumor has it he’ll be the first choice for Northwestern -- if somehow Pat Fitzgerald ends up with the Chicago Bears -- or the Michigan Wolverines if Jim Harbaugh takes an NFL job. Some feel he’d be a great fit for the Los Angeles Rams, thought that’s a steep climb for Fleck in my opinion.