As the college football bowl season kicks off this weekend, there are two games on Saturday, Fresno State vs. Wyoming and UCF vs. Rutgers, that feature two highly touted juniors, Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews and Rutgers offensive tackle Anthony Davis, who could find their way into the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
In the New Mexico Bowl, which is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EST between Fresno State and Wyoming, the country will have a chance to witness the most productive, but most unknown, players in college football. Even though Mathews currently leads the nation in rushing with 245 carries for 1,664 yards and 17 touchdowns, the average fan has no idea who he is since he plays in the WAC.
At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, Mathews has been an intriguing prospect for many NFL scouts this season and has drawn comparisons to Chicago Bears second-year running back Matt Forte. An NFC North scout recently told me, “He runs with great balance, strength and has impressive vision. If he decides to skip his senior year, he’s going to impress a lot of teams at the Scouting Combine; similar to the way Forte did during the ’08 Senior Bowl. Athletically and physically, Mathews measures up to Forte, but it’s Mathews that has the greater upside.”
Prior to this season, Mathews was a part of a running back by committee scenario during his freshman and sophomore campaigns. As a freshman, he shared the load with Clifton Smith (now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Lonyae Miller. During that season, Mathews rushed for 866 yards on 145 carries, and led all NCAA freshmen in YPC (6.0) and touchdowns (14). The ensuing season, Fresno State had big plans for Mathews and after he got off to a promising start - 470 yards rushing and four touchdowns in four games – it appeared he was on his way to a breakout year. But just as he was heating up, injuries kept him out of the lineup. Mathews missed five games due to a knee injury and finished the year with just 113 carries for 606 yards and six touchdowns.
The biggest concern scouts have with Mathews is his durability. He’s extremely talented and deceptively quick on the edge, but his aggressive style of running and his inability to elude big hits will eventually take its toll. Mathews has workhorse like qualities and can carry the ball between 22 – 27 times in a game, but at the next level; if Mathews declares for the draft, the team that selects him should keep his touches between 18 – 22.
Switching gears to the nightcap, UCF and Rutgers prepare to square off in the St. Petersburg Bowl at 8 p.m. EST, and all scouting eyes will be focused on Rutgers’ Davis. A 6-foot-6, 325-pound behemoth, Davis is a two-year starter at left tackle and for his size is surprisingly athletic. He’s quick off the snap, makes good adjustments and possesses a strong upper body. He delivers a devastating punch to defenders, stunts their progress and is able to knock them off their rush. He possesses nimble feet, gets to the second level with ease and makes his presence known by attacking linebackers. He plays with a mean streak and is aware of his surroundings.
As physically dominant as Davis can be on the field, there are concerns about him off the field. Davis’ conditioning has always been questioned, and the 325 pounds that he’s listed at is very generous. He tends to play down to the level of competition and lacks motivation to play consistently down after down. Despite Davis’ flaws, he has the ability to become an All-Pro tackle, and NFL teams understand his potential.
During the course of the season, there were many teams that scouted Rutgers, and for the most part, they were all interested in Davis. The teams that showed the most interest in Davis this year were the New England Patriots, who sent Director of Player Personnel Jason Licht to two games, the New York Giants, who sent General Manager Jerry Reese and Director of College Scouting Mark Ross to two games, as well as scouts to three other games, the Minnesota Vikings, who sent Vice President of Football Operations Rick Spielman to a game, and scouts to two other games, the Atlanta Falcons, who sent Director of Player Personnel Les Snead to a game and scouts to another one, and the Seattle Seahawks, who sent scouts to two games.There are other prospects to keep an eye on in these games on Saturday, including Fresno State RB’s Lonyae Miller and Anthony Harding, OG Andrew Jackson (junior) and OLB Chris Carter (junior); Wyoming DE John Fletcher; Rutgers senior CB Devin McCourty and LB Ryan D’Imperio; UCF DT Torrell Troup, OLB Jarvis Geathers and OT Jah Reid (junior).
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. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also now follow Chris Steuber on Twitter.