o There are a lot of great running backs in college football this year. Many of the top names are underclassmen, but one of the best senior running backs in the nation is Tulane's Matt Forté. At 6-foot-2, 223 pounds, Forté is a strong, physical runner who has quick feet and always falls forward fighting for extra yards. He has great vision and hits the hole quickly, but he doesn't have the elusiveness in the open field to be considered a game-breaker. He has good hands out of the backfield and is a willing blocker in passing situations. This past weekend against UTEP, Forté had 38 carries for 171 yards and two touchdowns, and that output gave him a total of 297 carries for 1,813 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season. Forté has rushed for over 300 yards twice this season (342 against Southern Methodist and 303 against Southeastern Louisiana) and over 200 yards three times (278 against Memphis, 209 against UAB, and 202 against Army). If Forté can show scouts he's improved his speed in the forty (he was timed at a 4.6 last year during junior day at Tulane) and can run in the 4.4-4.5 range, he'll be a late first-day, early second-day selection.
o Another position that's loaded with draft-eligible prospects is defensive back. One of the best cover corners in the land, Aqib Talib, has helped the fourth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks achieve a surprising 10-0 record. He has great size, standing at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, and is a lockdown corner with franchise potential. Talib's skills are reminiscent of Denver Broncos All-Pro corner Champ Bailey. Not only is Talib a tremendous cover corner, but he also is a situational threat on offense. So far this season, Talib has recorded 48 tackles, 3.5 for a loss and four interceptions for the Jayhawks defense, has eight receptions for 182 yards and four touchdowns on offense. It has been widely speculated that Talib will forego his final year of eligibility and enter the draft. If the speculation is true, Talib will be a top-20 selection.
o The UAB Blazers haven't had much to brag about this season with a 2-8 record, but one thing they can say is that they have a top safety in senior Will Dunbar, who will get plenty of looks from NFL teams next April. Dunbar is an athletic centerfielder who possesses outstanding ball skills. He's an aggressive tackler who has a nose for the ball and plays with great intensity. He has great sideline-to-sideline range, moves well laterally, and takes good angles in coverage. The Blazers defense didn't fare well against UCF's Kevin Smith on Saturday, who had 41 carries for 332 yards and four touchdowns. But Dunbar played well in coverage and managed to collect eight tackles, four of which were made while tackling Smith, in the 45-31 defeat. Dunbar has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Blazers this season. In their eight games he has totaled 97 tackles, four for a loss, and two interceptions. Dunbar's ability to defend against the run and be a playmaker in the secondary will make him an attractive early second-day selection.
North Carolina's Durrell Mapp tackles South Florida's Aston Samuels.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
o A player to keep an eye on is North Carolina linebacker Durell Mapp. Mapp is a 6-foot-2, 235-pound playmaker at the WILL linebacker position who also has experience playing inside. He's a versatile, hardworking player who's been productive throughout his career with the Tar Heels. He's instinctive, flies around the ball, and is disciplined staying with his assignments. He has outstanding lateral movement, plays sideline-to-sideline and is a sure tackler. Mapp had a tremendous game on Saturday against NC State, registering 23 tackles and a sack, but his effort wasn't good enough as the Tar Heels lost 31-27. Mapp, through 10 games this season, has totaled 112 tackles, six for a loss, two sacks and an interception. It will be interesting to see how Mapp navigates his way through the draft process. If everything stays on track, he's destined to be a fourth-round selection.
o Arkansas senior wide receiver Marcus Monk is a highly-touted vertical threat in the nation, but after tearing a ligament in his knee this past August, his draft stock is plummeting. He returned to action three weeks ago against Florida International and in the three games he's played in since, including this past weekend's game against Tennessee, Monk has just seven receptions for 52 yards and two touchdowns. Monk was once considered to be a second-round prospect after a sparkling junior campaign where he hauled in 50 receptions for 962 yards and 11 touchdowns, not to mention his 19.2 yards per catch. But with the uncertainty surrounding his health and the talent that may be available next April, it's likely he will fall into Day Two.
o Texas offensive tackle Tony Hills suffered a season-ending leg injury this
past weekend against Texas Tech. Hills, a senior, sustained a fibula fracture to
his lower left leg, which ends his collegiate career and snaps his 24-game
consecutive start streak. Hills was a mainstay on the Longhorns O-Line and is a
highly-touted prospect for next April's draft. A fractured leg is a tricky
injury for an offensive lineman and will need some time to heal. Prior to the
injury, I projected Hills to be a late second-, early third-round selection. The
biggest obstacle for Hills will be to participate in offseason workouts and show
scouts he has no lingering effects from the injury. If he's able to accomplish
that, he'll regain his status as a late first-day selection.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.