NFL Draft '07: Scouting Saturday for talent

Several important conference battles loom on the schedule this Saturday. Many feature several middle-to-late round prospects hoping to cement or improve their draft stock. Here's a few of the better match-ups.

North Carolina St vs. Virginia  12PM EST/ESPN GP

A disappointing Cavalier football team takes on an NC State squad which has been up and down this year.  The game includes several top defensive linemen as well as a good match-up in the secondary.

In what looks like  bleak senior crop of defensive tackles next April Tank Tyler has stood out this year.  The NC State prospect has been a terror up front, commanding double teams yet still getting penetration up the field.

Virginia offers Chris Long, a game disrupting pass rusher in the mold of his father, former NFL All-Pro Howie Long.  The junior plays bigger than his listed size and shows tremendous skills in pursuit, chasing the action around the field.  Unlikely to enter this years draft, Long projects as a first round choice in 2008.

In the passing game the Cavaliers put a solid possession wide out on the field while State has a pair of secondary players to watch.

Fontel Mines is a large receiver who is not as productive as most feel he should be.   A potential late round/free agent prospect as a fifth receiver in the NFL, he has the tools to be a third down/red zone target.

Wolfpack cornerback AJ Davis has all the measurables to be a big time NFL prospect.  Sized well, he flashes speed on the field yet his game is inconsistent.  Davis could get late round consideration by a team who will use him as a dime back hoping to further develop his football skills.

Though not as fast as his teammate Garland Heath is an imposing figure at safety with terrific size.  Yet like Davis he is another that does not make enough plays on the field.  Heath has a chance to stick on a roster as a strong safety if he raises his level of play. 

Auburn vs. Mississippi 12:30 PM EST/ESPN GP

It's been a bleak season for 'Ole Miss as the team has registered just two wins this year.  Auburn hopes to continue its' winning ways in the conference after a surprising loss to Arkansas.

Patrick Willis has been one of the few positives in Oxford this season for Mississippi.  A stout run defender, he's also displayed coverage skills when dropped into zone.  In what is a very weak year at the middle linebacker position the talented Willis grades as a top 45 selection, with some thinking he will break into the first frame.

Injury has slowed Auburn running back Kenny Irons this year.  With high expectations placed on him by NFL scouts, Irons has show a lot of grit and toughness yet has not taken his game to the next level as many had hoped.  And though he grades as a first round pick Irons is likely to be selected in the late part of the frame rather then the initial 15 selections, which many thought possible coming into the season.

The Tigers have a pair of highly rated guards who pave the way for Irons.  

Ben Grubbs was rated ahead of teammate Tim Duckworth coming into the season with both grading as first day selections.  In our opinion Duckworth is actually the better player and more dominant at the point.

Irons versatility as a ball carrier and pass catcher out of the backfield will be a good test for Willis, who will have Grubbs and Duckworth looking to block him from the play most of the game.

USC vs Oregon State 3:30 PM EST/Fox

The Trojans continue to march through their schedule, preparing for future battles against Cal and Notre Dame.   The Beavers are in the midst of fighting for a bowl invitation this year.

Oregon State tight end Joe Newton has been getting a lot of play in scouting circles recently.  Considered the most complete tight end in the senior class, Newton has done well rebounding from the foot injury which kept him on the sidelines last season.  Newton grades as a late first day prospect.

USC offers one of the nation's most underrated linebackers in Keith Rivers.  A superior weak-side prospect, Rivers stands out in coverage while also displaying great skill in pursuit and up the field on the blitz.  If Rivers enters the draft he could slide into round one.

What Rivers' game lacks is size, something which is not a problem for Newton.  The ability to defend the run against Newton's blocking as well as handle the tight ends size in coverage is something to key on in this game.

In the secondary the Trojans deadly draft eligible duo of Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett face off against the Beavers ball-hawking safety Sabby Piscitelli.

A tremendous athlete with outstanding size/speed numbers, Piscitelli is a ball magnet in centerfield.  Already recording three interceptions this season after four picks in 2005, one would think he'd be a shoe-in during the draft's first day.  But Piscitelli is marginally productive against the run, which has depressed his draft grade.  He could ultimately be a steal in the middle rounds if the light goes on.

Finally, keep an eye on Oregon State's left tackle Adam Koets, one of the most underrated prospects at his position in our opinion.  Though not the greatest athlete Koets shows terrific pass blocking feet and does a good job protecting his quarterback.  

Saturday he goes up against one of the better edge rushers in the nation, Lawrence Jackson.  A feared pass rusher, Jackson is presently bogged down in a miserable season in which he has not registered sack to date.

Texas vs. Texas Tech 7PM EST/TBS

The surging Longhorn program, coming off a win against Big 12 opponent Nebraska, looks to top division rival Texas Tech on Saturday.

The Red Raider offense is not as potent as recent years yet still offers three top prospects at the receiver position.

Jarrett Hicks, a well-sized pass catcher, has been marginally productive since his return .  Hicks, justifiably a first day pick, sat on the sidelines for Tech's initial three games while the NCAA hashed-out his eligibility for this season.

Taking over for Hicks as the Red Raiders number one receiver is Joel Filani, an underrated player in our opinion.  Another wide out with great size, Johnson has taken his game to another level and will get middle round consideration, if not higher, depending how fast he runs prior to the draft.

Robert Johnson rounds out this group and is another with NFL potential as a fifth receiver.

They face off against what is a terrific pair of Longhorn starting cornerbacks.

Tarell Brown is a shut-down cover man and a better prospect then former teammate Cedric Griffin, who was drafted by the Vikings in round two last April.  Brown possesses the speed and cover skills to be a top 40 choice.  The question is will teams overlook several character issues with Brown, who was arrested before the Ohio State game earlier this year.

The Horns other corner, Aaron Ross, is developing nicely and offers plenty of impact as a return specialist.  Ross could fit into the late part of day one.

A final match-up, which will be as good as any, resides on the line of scrimmage.

Frank Okam, the Longhorns powerful defensive tackle, has shown flashes off dominance up front.  Clogging the middle of the line, he has allowed UT linebackers to have a free shot at opposing running backs all season.  In a draft void of talent at defensive tackle Okam has potential late in round one if he enters the event.

Trying to slow Okam will be Manny Ramirez, the highly rated guard from Texas Tech.  Ramirez came into the season with as high as a second round grade by some NFL scouting services.  That was a little optimisitic in our opinion as Ramirez is a small area blocker with limited skills in space or on the move.  His battle against Okam will be very telling.

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