Prospects to Watch

Here's a print-and-save list of Prospects to Watch for the first half of this bowl season, which kicks off this afternoon. Part II will be published a few days before New Year's Day.

This list was made with the Pittsburgh Steelers in mind. Any draft grade applied is my opinion at this point in the process.

Saturday, Dec. 19

New Mexico Bowl, 4:30 p.m. – Fresno State vs. Wyoming. The interesting player here is FSU RB Ryan Matthews (21), who leads the nation with an average of 151.3 rushing yards per game. He's a junior who's expected to come out early, and the Steelers will likely be in the market for another back.

St. Petersburg Bowl, 8 p.m. – Central Florida vs. Rutgers. The first-day Rutgers prospects are LT Anthony Davis (75) and CB Devin McCourty (21). Davis is a massive junior who's been derided as an underachiever this season, while McCourty is a physical 190-pounder and special-teams demon. Later-round ILB Ryan D'Imperio (44) is a run-stopper who could interest the Steelers. Central Florida NT Torrell Troup (98) is a late-round sleeper.

Tuesday, Dec. 22

Las Vegas Bowl, 8 p.m. – Oregon State vs. BYU. OSU's left-handed QB Sean Canfield (5) is a late-rounder, while BYU counters with its own sleeper QB prospect in Max Hall (15). BYU TE Dennis Pitta (32) is well regarded, but isn't much of a blocker. I'm more interested in 239-pound BYU junior RB Harvey Unga (45).

Wednesday, Dec. 23

Poinsettia Bowl, 8 p.m. – Utah vs. California. One of my favorite guard prospects is Utah LT Zane Beadles (68), a third or fourth-rounder, and one of my favorite later-round 3-4 OLB prospects is Utah DE Koa Misi (41). The Utes also have a king-sized free safety, Robert Johnson (17), a raw late-rounder. Cal's star junior RB Jahvid Best won't play and is expected to turn pro. High-motored DT Tyson Alualu (44) will be an interesting match-up with Beadles. Alualu is said to be an ideal 3-4 end prospect, but to me appears better built for the 4-3. Cal CB Syd'Quan Thompson (5), a first-day prospect, expects to play for Cal on his injured ankle.

Saturday, Dec. 26

Little Caesars Bowl, 1 p.m. – Marshall vs. Ohio. Just one late-round prospect on each team: Marshall TE/FB Cody Slate (85) and Ohio WR Taylor Price (23).

Car Bowl, 4:30 p.m. – Pitt vs. North Carolina. UNC has four or five junior prospects on defense. OLB Bruce Carter (54) says he's not coming out, but ILB Quan Sturdivant (52), a sudden, strong and smart James Farrior clone, and DT Marvin Austin (9) probably will. Sturdivant just turned 21 and Austin will turn 21 on New Year's Day. Another high-round junior prospect is FS Deunta Williams (27). DT Cam Thomas (93), a mid-rounder, is UNC's top senior prospect. For Pitt offensively, watch the tight ends: Nate Byham (80) might be the sticky-fingered fifth-round blocker the Steelers need, and Dorin Dickerson (2) is a dynamic matchup problem but not much of a blocker. Pitt junior Greg Romeus (91) could sneak into the first round as a 4-3 DE if he comes out and DT Mick Williams (95) will be in somebody's camp and could make a roster.

Emerald Bowl, 8 p.m. – Boston College vs. USC. Very interesting OL talent at BC in LT Anthony Costanzo (74), who appears to be a can't-miss junior, and C Matt Tennant (65), who'd be a perfect second-round choice for the Steelers. USC FS Taylor Mays (2) is a big and fast first-rounder with questionable ball skills and instincts, and two-way TE Anthony McCoy (86) and light-on-his-feet LT Charles Brown (71) figure to be high second-rounders. USC has a strong class of juniors, led here by C Kris O'Dowd (61), another potential first-rounder who missed a portion of the season with an injury that could force him to return for his senior season.

Sunday, Dec. 27

Music City Bowl, 8:30 p.m. – Kentucky vs. Clemson. The highlight here is Clemson RB C.J. Spiller (28), a first-round lock who can run inside and outside, catch passes, return kicks, and pass block; however, the Steelers don't figure to draft a running back in the first round. The more interesting Clemson prospect here might be LG Thomas Austin (65), a third-round type with great heart, strength and decent mobility. Clemson DE Ricky Sapp (7) is an enigma who tends to disappear at times and wouldn't seem to have 3-4 OLB pass-coverage skills. Kentucky has two interesting players in ILB Micah Johnson (4), a third-round run-stuffer with surprising mobility who'll remind you of Levon Kirkland at times, and CB Trevard Lindley (32), a second-rounder who's said to lack the zone coverage skills the Steelers normally require.

Monday, Dec. 28

Independence Bowl, 5 p.m. – Texas A&M vs. Georgia. I only watched A&M junior QB Jerrod Johnson (1) on Thanksgiving night, but it was enough for him to become my favorite draft-eligible QB. His teammate, junior Von Miller (40), has pass-rush skills but should stay in school to round out his game. Georgia has three DTs that will give you a headache tracking – Jeff Owens (95), Geno Atkins (56), Kade Weston (91). You might find a late-round NT prospect out of the bunch. Georgia junior safety Reshad Jones (9) figures to be a second-rounder, while junior teammate Rennie Curran (35) is a small linebacker who'll have to play safety at the next level.

Tuesday, Dec. 29

Eagle Bank Bowl, 4:30 p.m. – UCLA vs. Temple. UCLA junior DT Brian Price (92) is the player to watch. Price is a dominant 4-3 prospect who looks so strong you'll be tempted to draft him and turn him into a nose tackle. He figures to fall into the 18-24 range of the first round. Also keep an eye on UCLA's mid-round CB Alterraun Verner (1) and late-round ILB Reggie Carter (51).

Champs Bowl, 8 p.m. – Miami vs. Wisconsin. Miami LT Jason Fox (64) enjoyed a solid senior season and could sneak into the bottom of the first round. The other Miami first-rounder is junior 3-4 DE prospect Allen Bailey (57), who has some experts calling him a top-five candidate. ILB Darryl Sharpton (50) is a mid-round run stopper with decent coverage skills, RB Javarris James (5) is the type of tough between-the-tackles back the Steelers could be looking at in the mid rounds, and TE Dedric Epps (18) deserves a look. For Wisconsin, Garrett Graham (89) is one of the best two-way TEs in the draft and also plays some fullback. DE O'Brien Schofield (50) is a mid-round 3-4 OLB prospect who should interest the Steelers. Oh, and Miami has a strong-legged junior kicker/punter in Matt Bosher (25).

Wednesday, Dec. 30

Humanitarian Bowl, 4:30 p.m. – Bowling Green vs. Idaho. I watched Idaho's massive LG Mike Iupati (77) early in the season and thought he was too stiff in his pass-blocking, but the experts keep pushing him up the charts so I'd better take another look. For Bowling Green, WR Freddie Barnes (7) led the nation with 138 receptions and 16 touchdowns.

Holiday Bowl, 8 p.m. – Arizona vs. Nebraska. You can look at Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh (93), but you can't touch this top 2 pick. The reason he might not be picked first is that a bad team may want to stay bad by drafting an overrated quarterback. Other Nebraska senior defenders to keep an eye on are mid-round safety Larry Asante (4) and late-round ILB Phillip Dillard (52). Arizona features small-but-tough mid-round CB Devin Ross (6) and 4-3 DT Earl Mitchell (49).

Thursday, Dec. 31

Sun Bowl, 2 p.m. – Oklahoma vs. Stanford. Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy (93) is the feature here. The junior has declared for the draft and should be a top 7 pick. The next-best Oklahoma athlete is probably redshirt sophomore LB Travis Lewis (28). The Sooners also have a first-round LT in Trent Williams (71), who draws mixed reviews. Also keep an eye on 6-1, 200-pound mid-round CB Brian Jackson (2). Stanford's gem, of course, is big RB Toby Gerhart (7). Oliver Luck's son Andrew Luck (12) is the best freshman QB in the country, but is doubtful with an injured right hand.

Texas Bowl, 3:30 p.m. – Navy vs. Missouri. Sean Weatherspoon (12), the highly regarded Missouri LB, showed little earlier in the season but I'll give him another try here. Big Missouri WR Danario Alexander (81) has a history of knee injuries but is enjoying a spectacular season.

Insight Bowl, 6 p.m. – Minnesota vs. Iowa State. With WR Eric Decker out with a foot injury, there's only one player to watch here: second-day Iowa State guard Reggie Stephens (73).

Chick-fil-A Bowl, 7:30 p.m. – Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee. Start with Tennessee's super junior safety Eric Berry (14) and NT Dan Williams (53). Berry should be a top-5 pick and Williams will battle Alabama's Terrence Cody for the top of the NT list. Steelers guard Ramon Foster believes Williams would be a perfect fit in the Steelers' locker room and eventually on the field as Casey Hampton's replacement. Other interesting Vols are third-round RB Montario Hardesty (2) and fourth-round LT Chris Scott (79). Tech has another solid boundary CB in Stephan Virgil (22) and a mid-round guard sleeper in Sergio Render (70). His matchup with Williams will hold my interest as the clock winds down on 2009.

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