Top NFL prospects: Week in review

Even though several highly anticipated matchups turned into blowouts, there were still exciting games played in the college ranks last Saturday. In the end, both national rankings and conference standings saw a shakeup. And several players improved their draft rankings while other highly-rated prospects watched their season come to an end.

Wallowing through what was a mediocre campaign, Missouri quarterback Brad Smith broke loose against Nebraska. The athletic quarterback combined for 480 all-purpose yards; 234 yards came through the air while the other 246 was picked up on the ground. The victory put Missouri in the driver's seat for the Big 12's North division and also infused some much needed life into Smith's sagging draft grade.

Maurice Stovall put up large numbers in Notre Dame's lopsided victory over BYU. For the most part, the big-bodied receiver has been a forgotten man this season yet he led the Irish with 14 receptions and 207 receiving yards. A terrific red-zone threat, Stovall pulled in four touchdown catches during the game.

Michigan's Jason Avant came up big during the Wolverines' overtime victory in Iowa. The large receiver caught seven passes for 105 yards including one score.

Highly rated coming into the 2004 season, UNLV tight end Greg Estandia injured his knee during the first game of the year then sat out the remainder of the campaign. The big tight end has returned with a vengeance in '05. Already posting career numbers of 38 receptions, 444 receiving yards and five touchdowns, Estandia led the Rebels during a close loss to Utah. The "go-to" pass-catcher on Saturday, he totaled 10 receptions for 120 yards with two scores. An adequate blocker with good size, Estandia has moved himself into the late rounds - or higher.

Possibly no receiving performance was equal to that of Washington State junior Jason Hill. In a very close loss to conference rival Cal, Hill posted astounding numbers, catching six passes for 240 yards. Included in his average of 40 yards per reception were three touchdown catches. A well-sized receiver, Hill's big-play abilities the past two seasons have garnered the interest of NFL scouts.

Already highly rated by NFL scouts, Georgia offensive lineman Max Jean-Gilles is turning in a good senior campaign. During a close victory over Arkansas, Jean-Gilles was dominant, recording three pancake blocks. For the second time this season, he was named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. Remember, the SEC is also home to Marcus McNeill and Andrew Whitworth, another pair of highly-rated blockers.

Defensive tackle Claude Wroten was omnipresent during LSU's vital victory over Auburn on Saturday. Wroten posted eight tackles, including two for loss and added a sack to his total. The game of field position was won all evening by Auburn yet the defensive charge, led by Wroten, held the Plainsmen scoreless six of the eight times they entered LSU territory.

Stanford's Babatunde Oshinowo was another defensive tackle who had a standout performance during the Cardinal's upset victory over Arizona State. Oshinowo collected nine tackles, four tackles for loss and three sacks. In the midst of a solid senior campaign, he has elevated his draft stock after surprising scouts with better then expected pass rushing skills.

Several linebackers stood out last weekend.

Once again, DeMeco Ryans came up big for the still unbeaten Crimson Tide. Ryans led Alabama with 11 tackles, recovered a fumble and added an interception. Ryans' fumble recovery set up the Tide's first scoring drive and his interception sealed the teams 6-3 victory over Tennessee. Having a terrific campaign, many in NFL scouting circles feel Ryans has played his way into the draft's initial 45 selections.

Junior H.B. Blades also turned in a good performance. Leading the team in tackles, Blades recovered a fumble and ran an interception back 38 yards for a touchdown, helping Pittsburgh beat Big East rival Syracuse 34-17. The victory brought Pittsburgh back to .500 and thrust the Panthers into bowl contention. Blades, who has been playing with assorted injuries all year, has recently come on strong.

The Purdue Boilermakers have a trio of good defensive ends, the headliner being underclassmen Ray Edwards. For the most part, senior Rob Ninkovich does his damage coming off the bench as Edwards backup. Yet this weekend Ninkovich got the start and played exceptionally well. In a close loss to Wisconsin he was the star of Purdue's defense. Totaling five tackles with two for loss and another which resulted in a sack, Ninkovich also intercepted a pass. A tremendous competitor who lacks great size, Ninkovich will get definite looks in the late rounds for a team which will use him as a 3-4 rush linebacker.

Another unheralded prospect getting late-round consideration is Iowa State cornerback LaMarcus Hicks, who picked off two passes last weekend. Spending most of his time on special teams and in nickel packages as a junior, Hicks has turned heads this year. Posting 31 tackles thus far, he is tied for the team lead with three interceptions and stands atop the defense with five passes defensed. Known as a playmaker on coverage units, Hicks is sized well and could be a sleeper next April.

If there was a bright spot for Illinois during Penn State's 63-10 drubbing of Illinois it was the performance of Fighting Illini punter Steve Weatherford. A potential late-round selection next April, Weatherford averaged 50.2 yards on nine punts, including a long of 61 yards.

Ankle injuries are putting a pair of first-day prospects on the shelf the rest of the season.

In the midst of a torrid senior campaign, Oregon passer Kellen Clemens saw his year come to a grinding halt. The Ducks' quarterback fractured an ankle during his team's seven-point victory over Arizona. The conference's top signal caller, Clemens had been averaging 329 passing yards per game and completed 64 percent of his throws.

Tennessee running back Gerald Riggs Jr. will also be sidelined the remainder of the '05 season. Riggs suffered a lower leg and ankle injury during a loss to Alabama. The severity of the injury is still being determined.

Niners Digest Top Stories