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 Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M: This is the second consecutive week that I listed Tannehill as part of this series. Last week, it was a tale of two halves for the senior quarterback and his Aggies. In the first half against Oklahoma State, Tannehill looked every bit like the first round quarterback (and A&M the top ten team) I expected. Everything fell apart in the second half, however, as Tannehill threw three interceptions at home and the Cowboys came back for the big conference win. I am not ready to give up on Tannehill quite yet, especially when two of his three interceptions appeared to be the result of poorly executed route-running. With one loss already on their record, Texas A&M must win the rest to have a chance at the type of season they were hoping for. Arkansas, like Oklahoma State, relies more on their own offense rather than a stifling defense to win games. They are athletic, however, and playing at home. They're also smarting after their own conference loss (to Alabama). The mental toughness or weakness that Tannehill demonstrates in this game will go a long way in determining whether scouts believe he has the leadership skills necessary to be the face of an NFL franchise. This game begins at noon ET and will be televised by ESPN.
CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech: After leading the entire country last year with nine interceptions, junior cornerback Jayron Hosley has picked up right where he left off, snaring two picks already this season. This week he'll be asked to help shut down a Clemson offense that has been equally impressive. Clemson's sophomore quarterback Tahj Boyd and freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins earned All-ACC quarterback and receiver honors for their play after each of the past two games. Boyd leads the ACC in total yards, passing yards and passing touchdowns. Watkins has caught 14 passes for 296 yards and four touchdowns... in just the past two games. Hosley possesses the quick feet, balance and speed to put an end to the Tigers' offense fireworks but will need to play with greater consistency than he has throughout much of his young career. A strong performance in this game could push Hosley onto my Top 32 Big(ger) Board. This game begins at 6:00 pm ET and will be televised by ESPN2.
ILB Donta Hightower, Alabama: Not surprisingly, there are a host of future NFL players that I and pro scouts will be focusing on in this key SEC showdown between Alabama and Florida. One could make the argument that Hightower, while one of the best, also is facing the toughest task this week as he'll be asked to slow down the Gators' speedy due of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, each of whom rank in the top ten in the SEC in rushing. Demps has been particularly explosive, averaging a stunning 9.4 yards per carry. Hightower is beginning to play with the same speed and explosiveness that was evident early in his career before a major knee injury suffered two years ago robbed him of some of his playmaking abilities. Big enough that some teams envision him as a future defensive end, the 6-4, 260 pound Hightower certainly has the bulk teams want, but his agility and open-field tackling skills will be put to the test in this one. With so much NFL talent on the field, this is the game I am most looking forward to scouting, Saturday. This game begins at 8:00 ET and will be televised by CBS.
WR Nick Toon, Wisconsin: As impressive as the talent level is in the Alabama-Florida game, there certainly isn't much of a dropoff in this first squaring off of Wisconsin and Nebraska as members of the Big Ten. Some believe this game will be replayed in a few months as each team looks poised to make a run to the Big Ten championship game. If that is to be the case, I cannot wait for the individual battle that is going to take place between Toon and Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, my top-rated senior cornerback in the country. Nick, the son of former New York Jets' great Al Toon, is blessed with a similar combination of size, speed and playmaking ability as his father but has been racked with inconsistency throughout his career. Dennard is finally healthy after missing the first three games with a muscle strain. In terms of one on one battles, it doesn't get any better than this... This game begins at 8:00 pm EST and will be televised by ABC.
SS Tony Dye, UCLA: Like many a UCLA Bruin before him, Dye entered his senior season rated by many scouts among the better safety prospects in the country. However, with Rahim Moore leaving early for the NFL (second round pick by Denver), Dye hasn't yet been able to step up his level of play. The lights likely won't get much better this season for Dye than they will Saturday night against Andrew Luck. With a strong performance in this one, Dye can help his own slipping stock and perhaps give the Bruins a chance against the most well-rounded offense in the country. This game begins at 10:30 pm ET and will be televised by FOX Sports.
p.s. At the request of some diehard draft fans, I'm also including the QBs to watch this weekend. They are:
Matt Barkley, USC hosting Nick Foles, Arizona. 3:30 pm ET on Fox Sports.*
Kyle Cousins, Michigan State visiting Ohio State. 3:30 pm ET on ABC/ESPN
*As well as Tannehill, mentioned above.