NFL Prospects on display

As the college football season winds down, it's time for the first of two "Rivalry Weekends". Several important games on the schedule this Saturday will directly impact conference standings near the top. And for a select few NFL-prospects, it will be their final time on the college field to impress league scouts.

Virginia Tech vs. Virginia (ESPN/12:00pm EST)

The battle for bragging rights in the Commonwealth State has little impact on the ACC standings.  Yet this game showcases several top NFL-prospects available in next April's draft, including a pair of first round choices.

NFL-scouts have been praising Cavalier tackle D'bricakshaw Ferguson aloud for his play and development this season.  The athletic pass-protector offers great upside, though there is room for improved run blocking strength.  Scouts feel Ferguson is a top five lock next April.  

This weekend Ferguson receives a solid test as pass rusher Daryl Tapp tries to force the action in Virginia's backfield.  

The Hokie defensive end is an athletic prospect effective off the edge or playing in space.  Size limitations will keep Tapp out of the draft's top 60-selections though his tenacity and quickness will be a challenge for Ferguson.

While the Cavalier receivers are adequate, none can challenge Jimmy Williams.  The Virginia Tech defensive back is a dominant force with tremendous size\speed numbers and should be a top 15 pick in next year's draft.  There looming question ; does Williams project to safety or cornerback at the next level?  The ability to make plays facing the quarterback coupled with struggles finding the ball in man-coverage lend many to think centerfield is Williams best pro-position.

Finally, Ahmad Brooks did a solid job returning from major knee surgery in the off-season only to suffer an ankle sprain.  To a man, scouts have said Brooks would be making a grave mistake should he opt for the draft after the season  

Hokie tight end Jeff King is having a terrific campaign and quietly rising up draft boards.  King is a complete player effective as a blocker or pass catcher.  And while he rarely makes plays into the defensive secondary, King is omnipresent on third down passing situations.  

Should King get the better of his battle against Brooks it will only endear him more to league scouts.

NFL Draft Reports: Virginia Tech | Virginia

Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech (FSN/12:00pm EST)

Oklahoma has owned this series of late and has the upper-hand going into Saturday's contest.  After a fast start in 2005 the Red Raiders have faded slightly.

The Sooners defense has held its' own and now faces the aerial assault of Texas Tech.  Red Raider quarterback Cody Hodges continues to impress NFL scouts and has moved into the late rounds of April's draft.  

Trying to slow down the Texas Tech offense will be a talented Sooner back seven.

Though their games need polish and both need playing time, OU defensive backs Eric Bassey and Chijioke Onyenegecha are talented prospects with potential for the next level.  Linebackers Clint Ingram and Rufus Alexander are athletic players who translate to three down defenders in the NFL.  

The ability of all four to stay in the ballgame as Texas Tech continually puts three and four receivers on the field must be watched.

NFL Draft Reports: Oklahoma | Texas Tech

Vanderbilt vs. Tennessee (ESPN-GP/12:30pm EST)

After a great start to the season Vanderbilt  is crawling to the finish line.  Out of the bowl picture, they face interstate rival Tennessee, who is also struggling mightily.  

For all the problems the Volunteers have had this season the defense has been steady.  They now face quarterback Jay Cutler, himself riding the wave of a solid campaign and the top passer in the SEC.

Cutler has made a move up draft boards, though he has not yet solidified himself as a first day pick.  With marginal talent around him, the Vandy signal caller is usually running for his life every Saturday yet still produces.

Scouts have been impressed with the fortitude Cutler has displayed all season long.  A good outing against a determined Tennessee defense could help push Cutler into the draft's top 75-selections.

NFL Draft Reports: Vanderbilt | Tennessee

Alabama vs. Auburn (CBS/3:30pm EST)

One of the greatest rivalries in college football, the Iron Bowl is a "do or die" game for both Auburn and Alabama.  The team that losses has no shot of getting into the SEC title contest.

Alabama lost their first game of the season last week to LSU in overtime.  Auburn won a thrilling contest against Georgia to keep their division hopes alive.

While their aren't a lot of match-ups to watch in this one, individual players that have made major moves up draft boards must be keyed on.

Demeco Ryans is in the midst of an outstanding senior campaign and the Alabama linebacker has played his way into the draft's top 40-selections.  A difference maker several times this year, NFL-scouts rave about Ryan's potential to be used in a variety of defensive schemes.

The Tides Mark Anderson is also on the rise.  An undersized end, Anderson is proving himself to be a complete defensive lineman and has jumped into the draft's first day.

Trying to contain Anderson will be Auburn's bookend offensive tackles.  Marcus McNeill had a solid senior campaign yet did not do enough to jump into the draft's top ten picks, as many scouts thought was possible.  Back problems and inconsistency have dropped McNeill into the second half of the initial frame.

Troy Reddick is not as big or athletic as McNeill yet a legitimate strong-side blocker with a middle-round potential.

NFL Draft Reports:  Alabama | Auburn

UAB vs. UTEP (PAX/6:00pm EST)

Likely headed to the inaugural title game in Conference USA, UTEP will make its' second consecutive bowl appearance in December.  After playing in the post-season last year UAB will be left out of the picture this year.  The Blazers do have one of the better draft stories no one is paying attention to. 

Quarterback Darrell Hackney has positively answered many of the questions scouts had about his play coming into the season.  Improving his entire game, Hackney leads the league in passing yet more importantly, has made good decisions in the pocket while throwing accurate passes.  

The top signal caller in Conference USA, Hackney is completing 63.8% of his throws while averaging more than 300-yards passing every game.  And though not spectacular, his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 18-to-8 is an improvement.

Hackney will get invited to a post season All Star game, though it is highly unlikely to be the Senior Bowl.  He is also a good bet to receive an invitation to February's combine.  Good showings at those events coupled with the solid senior campaign he's already put together makes Hackney a sure-fire middle round pick next April.

NFL Draft Reports: UAB | UTEP

Fresno State vs. USC (FSN/10:15pm EST)

Who was the toughest opponent on the Trojan schedule after Notre Dame?  Some would say California while others UCLA.  Yet one could justifiable argue that Fresno State will pose the hardest challenge for USC as they try and remain unbeaten for a second consecutive season.

On their way to the WAC title, the Bulldogs offer a ball control offense with the passing of Paul Pinegar, a late round selection next April.  Fresno State has also been riding on the shoulders running backs Wendell Mathis, in the midst of a breakout campaign, and productive veteran Bryson Sumlin.  Both will also get consideration in the late frames of the '06 draft.

Yet the match-up to watch is Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart against a very talented Fresno secondary.  The Bulldogs have as many as five defensive backs who will be selected throughout the draft over the next two years.

Junior Richard Marshall is the best of the bunch.  A shutdown corner with explosive speed, Marshall needs to fine-tune his game yet offers solid upside for the next level.  Potentially a first round pick in '07, Marshall could squeak into the draft's initial 60-picks if he opts to go pro after the season.

Highly rated entering the season, safety Tyrone Culver has been disappointing during his senior campaign yet will receive late round consideration next April.  

The late frames is where senior cornerback Raymond Washington will also be drafted.  A back-up at Fresno, Washington would start for most teams in the nation.  Possessing solid size\speed numbers he projects nicely as a dime back or safety in the NFL.

NFL Draft Reports: Fresno State | USC

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