NFL Draft '07: Scouting Saturday for talent

Rivalry Weekend, as it is fondly known, is upon us. As is the case every year this Saturday matches bitter rivals against one another and offers a game of national title importance. It also has several top NFL-prospects facing off against each other. The fun starts tonight with a battle in the MAC.

Central Michigan vs. Northern Illinois 8PM EST ESPN/Friday

A battle between a pair of highly rated linemen struggling through injury-riddled seasons.

Northern Illinois tackle Doug Free came into the year as one of the highest rated players at his position and a lock as a first-day draft selection.  But poor play coupled with a stress fracture in his foot has caused Free to drop a long way down draft boards.

On the other side is Central Michigan's sack artist Dan Bazuin.  A disruptive force, Bazuin gave serious consideration to entering last April's draft but decided to return for one more college season.  Another struggling with injuries all year, he has totaled just 8 sacks and 11 tackles for loss to date.  There is a feeling Bauzin is finally back to complete health.  He'll need some big performances to restore his draft ranking.

Maryland vs. Boston College  12PM EST ESPN

An ACC battle which has huge implications in the conference's Atlantic division.

All season long we have been singing the praises of BC's Josh Beekman.  An athletic lineman who plays with a nasty attitude, Beekman has been dominant at both guard and center this season.  Presently a third round pick, Beekman could jump into the top 60-choices if he plays well at the Senior Bowl.

Saturday he faces off against Maryland's Dre Moore, a junior on the rise. A tremendous athlete, Moore reportedly runs 4.8-seconds at nearly 310-pounds.  Moving into the starting line-up this season, Moore is transferring his athletic skills into football production and is one to keep an eye on.

Michigan vs Ohio State 3:30PM EST ABC

A huge game both in terms of the national championship as well as draft positioning next April. A game which also takes on new meaning with the sudden passing of Bo Schembechler. NFL scouts will be watching this game as intensely as the rest of the college football world.

Earlier in the season Ohio State Ted Ginn Jr missed out on a face-to-face meeting with one of the better cover corners in the nation when Texas Longhorn cornerback Tarell Brown was suspended for the contest against the Buckeyes.  

They'll be no avoiding the competition tomorrow as Ginn Jr. will be covered by Leon Hall, the nation's premiere cover-man.  Ginn Jr., a champion sprinter who impacts the game as both a receiver and return specialist, is expected to enter the draft and be one of the first dozen players selected.  Hall is a top ten choice.  This will be a great match-up.

The same can be said for the battle on the line of scrimmage.

Ohio State center Doug Datish has been a major riser up draft boards recently.  Since moving to the pivot from left tackle this season, Datish has looked more at home.  Datish could be the first center selected next April.  

The objective for Datish on Saturday is to find a way to slow down and contain Michigan's Alan Branch, the nation's most dominant defensive tackle.  Branch has taken his game to another level this year and if the he enters the draft there is no doubt he'll be a top ten choice.

Another junior seriously considering making the jump to the next level is Buckeye running back Antonio Pittman.  A quick-footed and elusive ball handler, Pittman combines speed and football intelligence to get the job done.

Trying to stop Pittman is middle linebacker David Harris.  In the midst of a terrific senior campaign, Harris is a tackling machine always in the right place at the right time. 

Both players grade as second round selections.

California vs. USC 8PM EST ABC

A huge PAC Ten battle with conference and possibly national title implications, this game also holds several top NFL prospects facing off against one another.  As with Michigan-OSU, the contest has top match-ups in the secondary and on the line of scrimmage.

While opinions are split on Cal cornerback Daymeion Hughes there is no doubt he's having a terrific senior campaign.  An intelligent cover-man, Hughes lacks top corner speed and is best in a zone system or backed off the line of scrimmage.  The faster he runs in pre-draft testing the earlier Hughes will be selected.

Hughes faces one of most lethal receiving groups in college football, including a tandem who will be selected at different points in the first day next April.

Dwayne Jarrett is a game controlling receiver with big-play ability when focused.  Possessing outstanding size, he projects well as a number two wide out in the NFL and carries a top 45 grade.

Teammate Steve Smith is having a tremendous campaign and watching his draft stock rise as a result.  Smith is a reliable pass catcher who comes up big during the games important moments.  There is no doubt he's jumped into the draft's first day.

USC center Ryan Kalil is another Trojan having a terrific campaign.  Solid as both a run blocker and pass protector, Kalil has looked and played stronger this season.  

He goes head-to-head against Cal's Brandon Mebane, an explosive one-gap tackle who can be a disruptive force.  Lacking top size, Mebane relies on quickness, technique and hustle to get the job done.

Both prospects grade as first day choices.

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