NFL Draft '07: Scouting Saturday for talent

Though no single game of national importance stands out on the schedule this weekend, Saturday's grid is dotted with outstanding individual match-ups. Notre Dame prospects are on the radar as is a knockout battle between two ACC stars.

Purdue vs Notre Dame

It's been up-and-down for Notre Dame the past two weeks after the shellacking by Michigan then a great comeback victory over Michigan State.  

And while most concentrate on the team's big names from the offensive side of the ball, the secondary has been opportunistic all season.  Corners Ambrose Wooden, Mike Richardson and safety Tom Zbikowski have all turned in big plays at some time through the first four games.  

Richardson, the senior of the trio, is late round talent as a nickel/dime back at the next level.  Wooden, a third-year junior, has first day talent in the future while opinions are mixed on Zbikowki.  The hard hitting safety has a penchant for snuffing out the ball in run defense but lacks pure cover skills against the pass. Most presently grade the junior as an early second day strong safety selection.

The three face Purdue's productive pass catcher Dorien Bryant, a small yet omnipresent receiver.  Bryant has a way of consistently getting open to make the clutch catch.  He also impacts the game returning kicks.  Size is a limiting factor yet production will give this junior first day looks when he enters the draft.

Another battle can be found on the line of scrimmage.

Irish defensive end Victor Abiamiri has found the going tough this season.  The potential first round pick has already faced top competition such as Penn State's Levi Brown then Jake Long of Michigan.  This Saturday he faces off against another highly rated tackle, Mike Otto.  

A solid athlete with good pass blocking feet, Otto has done an outstanding job at the left tackle spot in Purdue's passing offense since his red-shirt freshman season.  He presently holds a middle round grade.

Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech

A huge battle in the ACC which features one of the nation's most dominant pass catchers pitted against the highest rated safety in the land.

Everyone considered Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech's ultra-productive wide out, as a top three pick in next April's draft when the season started.  The junior, who is expected to leave for the NFL after this season, has not disappointed.  Johnson has shown himself to be a one-man show, taking games over or breaking them open.  And while his early fate was tied to the throwing problems of Tech quarterback Reggie Ball, the big receiver has recently turned in some brilliant performances.  Some now think Johnson could be the first pick of the draft, depending on who owns the selection.

Coming into the '06 campaign Aaron Rouse of Virginia Tech was given a first round grade by most NFL scouting services.  The conventional wisdom was Rouse would battle Laron Landry of LSU as the top safety available next April.  Rouse, a defensive back with a complete game, has had a solid yet unspectacular senior campaign.  His battle against Johnson is huge and could earn him a lot more respect with NFL scouts.

Georgia vs. Mississippi

It's been a bleak season thus far in Oxford, Mississippi.  The Rebels have suffered several devastating losses and at this early juncture of the campaign it looks as though there will be no post-season invitation.  

Yet the Rebels best player, linebacker Patrick Willis, has looked solid through it all.  A big defender in the middle who stacks well against the run, Willis is averaging near twelve tackles per game and has broken up three passes.  

The match-up against Georgia will be one of the toughest faced thus far by Willis.  The Bulldogs rushing offense has been been opportunistic.   The ability to hold their big plays in check will fall on the shoulders of Mississippi's middle linebacker.

Bulldog tight end Martrez Milner is off to a very good start.  The heir apparent to Leonard Pope came into the season with unusually high grades for a prospect who had been a back-up much of his previous three years.  This will be a stern test for Willis, whose deficiency is pass coverage.

Willis grades as a potential late pick in round one while Milner rates as a first day selection.

Washington vs. Arizona

One of the better stories at quarterback this season has been the transformation of Washington signal caller Isaiah Stanback.  A strong-armed athlete who can make all the throws, Stanback is finally turning his raw talent into football skill. 

To the delight of Husky fans he has led his team to a 3-1 start and a bowl berth seems possible.  To the surprise of scouts Stanback has shown he is more then a great athlete struggling to play quarterback. Stanback has improved his accuracy, decision making and overall game this season.   He is slowly rounding into a complete passer on a weekly basis. 

Stanback faces a talented Arizona defensive backfield, a secondary we highlighted last week when the Wildcats played USC.  Against the Trojans passing game the Wildcat secondary stayed in the game, holding USC's explosive offense to just 179-yards passing. 

This will be a great test for Stanback and another opportunity to cement in the minds of scouts he is on the rise.


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