2008 NFL Draft Watch

Get the scoop on some of the emerging stars from the college ranks that your favorite NFL team could be scouting right now. NFL Draft Analyst Chris Steuber fills you in.

o Georgia Tech star running back Tashard Choice hasn't skipped a beat since returning to action two weeks ago.  After missing the Yellow Jackets' big conference game against Virginia Tech due to arthroscopic knee surgery, Choice has played in two games since his return — including this past weekend's game against North Carolina where he had 33 carries for 142 yards — and has averaged 28 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown. Choice has great size, good speed, and is a workhorse in the backfield who will be a late first-day, early second-day selection.

o One of the nation's best cover cornerbacks, Arizona's Antoine Cason, had a game to remember last Thursday evening against the second-ranked Oregon Ducks. Cason had an interception, which he returned for a 42-yard touchdown, and he returned a punt for a 56-yard touchdown. In addition to his two highlight-reel plays, Cason contributed seven tackles on the way to the Wildcats 34–24 upset victory over Oregon. Cason has had an outstanding senior season, recording 69 total tackles (54 solo, 15 assisted), four for a loss, a sack, and five interceptions. Cason was a top-five cornerback entering this game, but having that kind of a performance on national television against a top-ranked team in the country has helped his draft stock.

Tulsa QB Paul Smith drops back to pass.
AP Photo/David Crenshaw

o A quarterback nobody mentions when they discuss the top quarterbacks is Tulsa's Paul Smith. Tulsa installed a new offense this season, a no-huddle, spread formation that new co-offensive coordinator Guz Malzahn brought with him from Arkansas. The new offense has not only brought Tulsa a respectable 8–3 record, including a four-game winning streak, but it has fit Smith perfectly. Smith, who's thrown for 3,886 yards, 34 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this season, has completed 55 of 87 passes for 1,022 yards, 10 touchdowns, and an interception in the Golden Hurricane's last three games against Tulane, Houston, and Army. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Smith presents a lot of intangibles to a team at the next level. He's a quality fourth-round prospect next April.

o Coming into the season, the first name that came to mind when you talked about the TCU defense was All-American Tommy Blake. But after a turbulent offseason that carried over into the regular season, Blake has faded and another Horned Frogs' defensive end has stepped to the forefront — senior Chase Ortiz. Ortiz leads TCU in two major categories for a defender: tackles for loss (14.5) and sacks (8). This past weekend against UNLV, Ortiz was all over the field recording seven tackles, three for a loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and two sacks. Ortiz's play this season and his ability to make plays in the backfield has solidified his status as a third-round draft pick.

o Last week, I said to keep an eye on a North Carolina Tar Heel linebacker Durell Mapp.  This week it's time to tell you about another promising prospect from UNC, defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer. Balmer is a gifted interior lineman who has a great burst off the line and is excellent against the run. He moves well laterally and uses his hands effectively against a bigger opponent. He has the ability to get penetration up the middle, squeeze through a seam, locate the ball, and close in on the opposition for a loss. At 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, Balmer has room to add size. But that may hurt his quickness inside. This season, Balmer has totaled 55 tackles (29 solo, 26 assisted), 7.5 for a loss, and 2.5 sacks. Balmer's stock is on the rise, and I project he'll be selected on Day One.

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.

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