Each Friday I list my "Five prospects" that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend. In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, but the players listed below are playing in high profile games and against the caliber of competition that I believe provides us with an opportunity to truly assess how a collegiate player might fare when asked to make the huge jump to the NFL.
Typically I focus on senior prospects in this space. However, with it becoming more and more obvious as to which underclassmen are considering the jump to the pros, I'll be incorporating a few more juniors and redshirt sophomores in the coming weeks.
Sometimes it also leads to the player being featured in Draft Slant , NFLDraftScout.com and CBSSports.com's weekly NFL Draft preview. In each PDF issue of Draft Slant Senior Analyst Chad Reuter breaks down six more players in Filmroom Notes, updates our Top 64 prospects overall and offers extensive previews of the next week's action. Here is the link to this week's issue of Draft Slant. Or for the entire season click this link . Looking for a specific week? Download past issues from the past three years here.
Without any further adieu, here are the five prospects, as well as the cable provider and time you can expect to see them.
QB Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: Of the second tier quarterbacks in the 2012 draft class, Cousins remains one of my favorites. He doesn't possess an elite arm and, as such, could be challenged in this matchup against a Nebraska defense that features one of the better press corners in Alfonzo Dennard. Representatives from the Senior Bowl have made it known that Cousins is among the quarterbacks vying for an invitation. With the rest of the games on the 6-1 Spartans' schedule very winnable, a strong performance in this game could not only put MSU in position for a big time bowl game, it could give Cousins a chance to impress scouts in Mobile. This game begins at noon ET and will be televised by ESPN.
DT Jaye Howard, Florida: Howard isn't flashy, but is quietly having a career year for the Gators. In fact, Howard has already surpassed his previous career high of 29 tackles with 33 so far this season, including 2.5 for loss. Georgia's monstrous redshirt sophomore Kwame Geathers will get more of the hype entering this game and deserves it... I'm more interested, however, to see if Howard is able to make some plays despite facing a talented Georgia offensive line, including Bulldogs' center Ben Jones -- who some believe is the elite senior in the country at his position. This game begins at 3:30 pm ET and will be televised by CBS.
ILB Arthur Brown, Kansas State: The Kansas State Wildcats are one of the better stories so far this season, but I do not believe they have the talent to compete with an Oklahoma team that must be smarting after their upset loss last week against Texas Tech. One of the few Wildcats that has flashed NFL-caliber talent this season is junior linebacker, Arthur Brown, a transfer from Miami. At 6-1, 225, Brown lacks the bulk most teams are looking for at inside linebacker, but his athleticism and closing speed could intrigue 4-3 teams looking for a weakside prospect. This game begins at 3:30 pm ET and will be televised by ESPN.
DE Andre Branch, Clemson: Many believe that Tech's triple option offense will present Clemson with their biggest regular season challenge to a potential berth in a BCS bowl game. (I'd argue South Carolina could have something to say about that.) For the Tigers to slow down the Yellow Jackets, Clemson's defensive ends will have to show remarkable discipline. This hasn't always been a strength for Branch and the rest of the Clemson defensive line, which typically are asked to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback. At 6-4, 260 pounds Branch has enough athleticism to chase ball-carriers wide. This game begins at 8:00 pm ET and will be televised by ABC.
QB Matt Barkley, USC: There are many out there who believe Barkley is simply a game-manager blessed to have a great deal of talent around him. I am not among them. In fact, I rate the USC junior signal-caller behind only Andrew Luck as the elite prospect potentially available for the 2012 draft. As such, I'm excited to see what Barkley will do in the heavily anticipated showdown against Luck and an underrated Cardinal defense Saturday night. Barkley doesn't possess a monster arm nor the great size that traditionally result in a top five pick. I've been consistently impressed with his poise in a collapsing pocket, however, as well as his leadership as well as his short to intermediate accuracy. Most importantly, I like his footwork and accuracy when rolling out and in play-action -- staples of the pro game. This game begins at 8:00 ET and will be televised by ABC.