Prospects to Watch II

OK, we're into the juicy segment of bowl season, so I present Part II of the Prospects to Watch list from a Pittsburgh Steelers point of view.

(Keep up with Jim Wexell's New Year's Day bowl game commentary here.)

Friday, Jan. 1

Outback Bowl, 11 a.m. – Northwestern vs. Auburn. Northwestern QB Mike Kafka (13) is a real interesting late-round sleeper, and of course it's time for DE Corey Wootton (98) to show the reported improvement he's made since struggling early with injuries. He's supposedly a great kid with a body built for DE in a 3-4. Auburn has an interesting mid to late-round 3-4 OLB prospect in Antonio Coleman (52), and of course three-down RB Ben Tate (44). A couple of interesting juniors to keep an eye on from Auburn are LT Lee Ziemba (73) and ILB Josh Bynes (17).

Gator Bowl, 1 p.m. – Florida State vs. West Virginia. Florida State CB Patrick Robinson (21) has had an uninspiring senior season, but considering the state of the Steelers' secondary I feel the need to watch him closely here (particularly since I'd already written him off and had stopped watching him). I love FSU LG Rodney Hudson (62), who plays bigger than his 290 pounds. WVU QB Jarrett Brown (16) has startling tools. RT Selvish Capers (66) had a disappointing senior season, but could be a great second-round project. Also, junior RB Noel Devine (7) should be ready to display his beep-beep speed after struggling with injuries this season.

Capital One Bowl, 1 p.m. – LSU vs. Penn State. Both teams have several prospects, so I'll try to keep this short and to the Steelers' point. For LSU, watch disappointing LT Ciron Black (70), S-turned-LB Harry Coleman (24), ILB Perry Riley (56) and stud junior S Chad Jones. For Penn State, I'll take my first close look at junior C Stefan Wisniewski (61), as well as the usual defensive fare: DE Jared Odrick (91) and ILBs Sean Lee (45) and Navarro Bowman (11). My favorite player in this game is Odrick, whom I watch over and over and can't figure out why he's not getting more respect from the draft experts.

Rose Bowl, 4:30 p.m. – Ohio State vs. Oregon. Ohio State junior DE Cameron Heyward (97) bears watching since he'll be an elite prospect if he declares. I also like senior sleeper prospects SS Kurt Coleman (4) and DT Doug Worthington (84). For Oregon, watch explosive (and sometimes reckless) SS T.J. Ward (2) and another in a deep crop of two-way TEs, Ed Dickson (83). Power RB LeGarrette Blount (9) would certainly fit a team with short-yardage problems such as the Steelers, but he's just been in too much trouble, beyond the punch.

Sugar Bowl, 8:30 p.m. – Cincinnati vs. Florida. Some experts don't even give Cincy LT Jeff Linkenbach (71) a draftable grade, while others call him a first-rounder. He didn't flash first-round tools against Pitt, but did an effective job on Greg Romeus. For Florida, start in the middle of the O-line with junior twins Maurkice Pouncey (56) at center and Mike Pouncey (55) at RG. Junior Aaron Hernandez (81) is another outstanding two-way TE. On defense, Joe Haden (5) is probably the best CB prospect in the draft, and ILB Brandon Spikes (51) should be recovered from injuries. He'd be an ideal second-round pick for the Steelers. Another in a deep safety crop this year could be junior FS Major Wright (21).

Saturday Jan. 2

International Bowl, 12 p.m. – Northern Illinois vs. South Florida. What a disappointment USF has been. An early star who faded with the team this season has been FS Nate Allen (5), who seems to be a favorite among Steelers fans but has left me uninspired. Same goes for penalty-prone CB Jerome Murphy (3) and 4-3 DE George Selvie (95). Some experts believe Selvie is a 3-4 OLB, but I've yet to see him "flip the hips" and drop into coverage (much like Pitt's Romeus). I do like the raw DE Jason Pierre-Paul (90), who seems like a 4-3 type as well, and I also like late-round middle backer Kion Wilson (42) a bit.

Papa Johns Bowl, 2 p.m. – Connecticut vs. South Carolina. USC's Eric Norwood (40) will get one last look from me, but I haven't seen what everyone else has. For one, he's out of position as a 4-3 linebacker. He has no instincts for the position whatsoever. Two, I don't see him even having the agility of a 3-4 OLB. To me, he's a less explosive Dwight Freeney who'll have to play 4-3 DE. But, people a lot smarter than me disagree, so I will look one more time. Also for USC, massive junior TE Weslye Saunders (88) reminds me of Eric Green and he's expected to declare for the draft. For UConn, DE Lindsey Witten (9) has showed the ability to drop and is fluid the rare times he's been asked to cover, but he seems to have too much trouble getting off blocks as a pass-rusher. Later-round sleepers from UConn are FS Robert Vaughn (33) and big WR Marcus Easley (29).

Cotton Bowl, 2 p.m. – Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma State. OSU LT Russell Okung (76) is universally loved – except by me. He doesn't seem to have a great anchor for an elite prospect, but I'll watch again to see what I'm not getting. I watched CB Perrish Cox (16) in OSU's opener and saw ball skills, man coverage ability, and toughness against the run, as well as return skills. But against Texas, after reading bad reviews on Cox, I saw a CB who had lost his confidence and who was torched by Jordan Shipley. Let's see the old Perrish Cox today. For Ole Miss, junior Jerrell Powe (57) jumped out at me in a late-season game as the best NT I'd seen all year. It was only one game, and I wasn't even aware of him as a prospect, so I'm worried my eyes deceived me. I'll be sure to pay close attention today.

Liberty Bowl, 5:30 p.m. – Arkansas vs. East Carolina. Arkansas LG Mitch Petrus (66) is a mid-rounder with nice mobility. ECU has some odd DLmen. I say odd because DE C.J. Wilson (95) is too heavy to play DE, and, since he's not playing DT, I worry about his run-stuffing skills. ECU FS Van Eskridge (4) adds to the deep S class this season.

Alamo Bowl, 9 p.m. – Michigan State vs. Texas Tech. The Suspension Bowl. Eight MSU players were suspended for fighting with a fraternity and Texas Tech Coach Mike Leach was fired after being suspended for locking Craig James's kid in a closet. Tech will probably play its best game of the season without their tyrannical coach on the sideline. Tech's best prospect is massive psycho RG Brandon Carter (76), who was suspended after a loss to Houston, presumably for tearing up the locker room. MSU has an interesting late-round WR in Blair White (25), but I'll focus on junior MLB Greg Jones (53) for the first time this season.

Monday, Jan. 4

Fiesta Bowl, 8 p.m. – Boise State vs. TCU. Boise State has one prospect, and he's a good one, CB/return man/punt gunner Kyle Wilson (1). He's more of a cover corner, and I haven't seen much physicality from him, but he is their boundary corner so hopefully he'll show more toughness today. As usual for TCU, watch DE Jerry Hughes (99) and MLB Darryl Washington (41). Hughes reminds me of James Harrison, while Washington could be a great second-round choice for the Steelers. He's a bit small at 234, but does appear to have a thirst for contact to go along with great athleticism.

Tuesday Jan. 5

Orange Bowl, 8 p.m. – Iowa vs. Georgia Tech. Mocksters keep trying to give Iowa junior LT Bryan Bulaga (79) to the Steelers, but after a mediocre season I'm worried he might have Robert Gallery disease. As per the norm, watch Iowa LBers Pat Angerer (43) and A.J. Edds (49) as mid-rounders. Angerer is the run-stopper and Edds drops into coverage. I also like mid-round RT Kyle Calloway (60) more than most. Georgia Tech is loaded with elite underclassmen. They have a top-10 DE prospect in Derrick Morgan (91), a first-round WR in Demaryius Thomas (8) and yet another FS in Morgan Burnett (1). But the guy to watch is arguably the nation's top power back, junior Jonathan Dwyer (21).

Wednesday, Jan. 6

GMAC Bowl, 7 p.m. – Troy vs. Central Michigan. I haven't watched Troy's 3-4 OLB prospect Brandon Lang (91) since very early in the season. I liked what I saw, but need this refresher. CMU QB Dan LeFevour (13) is considered a mid-rounder, which is too high for the Steelers at that position.

Thursday, Jan. 7

BCS Championship Game, 8 p.m. – Texas vs. Alabama. Where to begin? Let's go with Alabama junior MLB Rolando McClain (25), a potential NFL captain who'll likely be gone by the time the Steelers select. CB/return man Javier Arenas (28) seems to be a focus of Steelers fans, but I prefer the silky smooth junior on the other side, Kareem Jackson (3). Brandon Deaderick (95) is a 3-4 DE prospect who's been playing better down the stretch. NT Terrence Cody (62) is a beast in the middle but carries too much weight, something Mike Tomlin may not want to deal with after dealing with Casey Hampton, who doesn't have near the weight problem as Cody. Offensively, I really like LG Mike Johnson (78), who's tall and physical and might fall into the middle of the second round. One of the best two-way TEs in the country is Colin Peek (84), who would make a great third-round pick. Texas has the Colt McCoy-Shipley connection on offense and an overachieving LT, Adam Ulatoski (74), who doesn't inspire anyone. Defense is where Texas shines with 3-4 OLB Sergio Kindle (2), 4-3 under tackle Lamarr Houston (33), MLB Roddrick Muckelroy (38) and redshirt sophomore FS Earl Thomas (12). All four would be welcomed by me as new Steelers, even Houston because of his world-class motor.

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