Top NFL prospects: Week in review

As college football closed out the final weekend in September, potential NFL prospects from the offensive side of the ball stood out last Saturday. If your favorite team is in the market for a tight end - as the 49ers might be next spring - there's plenty of reason for excitement. The same can be said for franchises looking to upgrade the running back position.

The Big Ten showdown between Purdue and Minnesota is a game that did not disappoint. The Gophers defeated Purdue 42-35 in double overtime. The star of the game was running back Laurence Maroney who amassed 217 yards rushing on 46 carries, and also led the team with five receptions for 59 receiving yards. Impressive to NFL scouts was the way Maroney, who weighs barely 205 pounds, held up late in the game. The Gophers' top NFL prospect is about to be severely tested. The month of October has Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State on the schedule - all teams with outstanding defenses. Good performances by Maroney in this four-game stretch could push the junior into the draft's top 20 picks.

The contest also saw a pair of tight ends stand out. Minnesota's Matt Spaeth caught four passes, totaling 68 yards and one score. Spaeth's blocking was equally as impressive, and the junior now stands as the Big Ten's most complete tight end prospect. On his behalf, Charles Davis performed well in Purdue's losing effort. The pass catcher totaled five receptions, one score and recorded 100 receiving yards.

Center Greg Eslinger looked outstanding throughout this contest. An athletic lineman effective in motion, Eslinger is quickly drawing comparisons to Denver Broncos' All-Pro Tom Nalen. NFL scouts feel Eslinger would be a perfect fit in a blocking scheme like the one run in Denver. The Niners may be looking next spring for an athletic, receiving tight end who also can fit into their blocking schemes.

Quite possibly no offensive lineman dominated last Saturday as did Wisconsin junior Joe Thomas. The Badgers consistently ran behind Thomas with great success during a late-game drive, which sealed victory over Big Ten foe Michigan. An outstanding pass protector, Thomas has displayed improved run blocking skills. Should he opt for next April's draft, a distinct possibility, he is headed for the first round.

Leonard Pope, the nation's top underclassmen tight end, looked good in Georgia's victory over Mississippi State. Pope led the team in receiving with three receptions for 59 yards. The game also featured D.J. Shockley, a quarterback slowly developing into one of the better stories for next April's draft.

A career backup to NCAA record-setter David Greene the past three years, Shockley has answered the call during the season's early portion now that he is a full-time starter. Shockley has completed near 60 percent of his throws, totaling 959 passing yards with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 8-to-2 during the season's first four games.

Other notable performances by NFL prospects included 223 yards rushing and three touchdowns by Memphis Tiger DeAngelo Williams in an overtime loss at the hands of Tulsa. Ranking as the top senior running back prospect, questions lingered as to Williams' health after the big back broke a leg last December. Williams has rushed for 519 yards in the Tigers' first three games of 2005.

Little-known Tony Scheffler, a consistent pass-catching tight end from Western Michigan, totaled seven receptions for 118 yards against Temple. Scheffler is very much what NFL teams want in a tight end today: a receiving threat who creates mismatches in the defensive secondary. In the Broncos' four games this season, Scheffler has totaled 44 receptions, averaging almost 10 yards per catch.

On the rare occasion that a punter is selected next April, one prospect teams will key on is Colorado's John Torp. One of the few bright spots in the Buffaloes' dismal performance against Miami, Torp averaged 47 yards on seven punts. Consistently pinning the Hurricanes deep in their zone, Torp was able to flip the field all day in a non-altitude venue.

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