An 8-5 record for a team that many feel were the best in the division and they should win the title this year. East Carolina lost its bowl game but it had been a few years since they were in a bowl game so the season was seen as a smashing success.
Ruffin McNeill posted his first winning season in three tries at East Carolina and with a weak conference it looks like history will be repeating itself in 2013. 8-5 was a nice record for 2012 but anything below 10 wins this year may be considered a failure.
There is no question East Carolina got a lot of production out of the quarterback and the running back positions in 2012. Shane Carden had a fantastic season posting 3,116 passing yards with an impressive 23-10 touchdown to interception ratio. The running game had solid production from quarterback turned runner Vintavious Cooper with close to 1,100 yards and All-Conference honors. The problem for East Carolina is both positions have a serious lack of depth behind them as an injury to either player could be crippling to this football team. I don’t see a legitimate draft pick here other than maybe Carden getting a camp invitation but I do not consider him a lock or a threat to make a roster.
Best Draft Prospect: Shane Carden QB UFA 2015.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The wide receivers as a whole are underachieving and not a deep unit although there is a legitimate prospect in the mix in junior Justin Hardy. Hardy found the end zone 11 times and recorded 1,105 yards receiving. Hardy has also shown a willingness to block downfield and do the little things you want a wide receiver to do when targeted in the passing game. I expect another big campaign out of Hardy but I think he stays for his senior season with Carden to maximize his collegiate statistical possibilities. Reese Wiggins can provide some relief and work the middle of the football field while Zico Pasut is a serviceable tight end. You don’t see Pasut too often in tradional tight end sets as East Carolina employs a lot of four receiver option looks. The tight end you will see a lot of is Justin Jones who I have as my #8 tight end for the 2014 Draft. I do not have him ranked as a prospect at this time due to his injury history. But with a 6-7 frame and a 280 pound body he is like having an extra offensive lineman who has soft hands and can break away for a catch and make a big play. Size makes Jones a formidable red zone option.
Best Draft Prospect: Justin Hardy WR 7th Round 2015. Justin Jones TE 5th Round for 2014 IF he stays healthy.
The offensive line is one of the better units in Conference USA even with the loss of Robert Jones. Two seniors will be leading the way and both figure as undrafted free agent invites into camps. Tackle Adham Elsawi and guard Will Simmons both have NFL aspirations and will be undrafted camp invites as they are good enough to warrant consideration. Some injuries caused this unit to be juggled and shuffled a year ago and it did pay off in that East Carolina has a number of players along the line that can play multiple positions.
Best Draft Prospect: Will Simmons OG UFA 2014.
The defense has been horrid and has not ranked above 87th overall in Coach McNeill’s three years on the job. The biggest problem is the lack of pressure on the quarterback as East Carolina finished 2nd last in Conferenced USA in quarterback sacks last year. The 3-4 set does allow the linebackers to make plays and there is some talent there but East Carolina has failed to recruit any game changing lineman for a few years now. Sophomore Terrell Stanley may have the most upside of the starters and plays undersized and relies on speed at 260 pounds. Terry Williams and Lee Pegues have plenty of experience but none the players mentioned here have any realistic NFL prospects at this time.
Best Draft Prospect: N/A
Derrell Williams made a ton of plays along the outside last year and seems to be the player most teams would focus on when just watching this team with the naked eye. While Williams may offer the most versatility it is middle linebacker Jeremy Grove that has the best pro prospects and the only player I see that is definite draft material from this team. Williams is a fringe player who could even play as a defensive end as he is used at a number of spot for the Pirates. Grove was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2011 and last season led the team with 83 tackles. Gabriel Woullard and Kyle Tudor will more than likely be the other starters but that doesn’t look to be set in stone. The linebacking corps is the definite strength of the team.
Best Draft Prospect: Jeremy Grove LB 5th Round 2015.
The secondary leaves me puzzled when I watch an East Carolina football game. The defense fails to create turnovers and the ball skills overall is lacking at virtually every position. One thing the team can do is tackle. The cornerbacks tackle like linebackers on this team and they rarely miss. The secondary racks up the tackles but they make them too far downfield and give up big plays on a consistent basis. The Pirates were 106th in pass defense a season ago and the team has to hope the addition of defensive coordinator Rick Smith turns things around or East Carolina will be winning a lot of shootouts in 2013. Chip Thompson at safety is the best prospect and should get a camp invite, his tackling skills could see him taken in the 7th round but that is not a sure thing.
Best Draft Prospect: Chip Thompson S UFA 2014.
Warren Harvey at kicker and Trent Tignor at punter are both serious contenders to make the All-Star team for conference USA butI don’t see a legitimate special teams prospect on the roster.
Best Draft Prospect: N/A.
On paper East Carolina could run through their conference undefeated or only 1 loss. The toughest division test may be their final regular season game when they travel to face high powered Marshall in a game which could feature over 100 points and 1,000 yards of offense.
There are a lot of fringe prospects here and Jeremy Grove and Justin Hardy look to be draft locks. We could see as many as 6-7 players on this team on NFL rosters at some point but no breakout stars or players I see taken in the first three rounds.