Tag:California
Posted on: October 6, 2011 6:50 pm
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Oregon CB Harris vs Cal WRs key matchup tonight

For those hoping to watch future NFL prospects in tonight's Pac-12 matchup between Oregon and California there are certainly plenty of prospects to focus on.

Oregon junior running back LaMichael James was a Heisman finalist last season and has the speed and elusiveness to contribute to any NFL team's rushing attack.

Continuing a recent tradition at Cal, the Golden Bears boast two nationally underrated front seven defenders in defensive end Trevor Guyton and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

The top individual matchup in tonight's 9:00 Eastern kickoff, however, is Oregon junior cornerback Cliff Harris against Cal's playmaking duo of receivers, sophomore Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. The game will be televised by ESPN.

Harris led the country with 23 pass breakups and the Pac-10 with six interceptions. Slim for some team's tastes, Harris' speed, quick feet, instincts and spectacular ball skills nonetheless make him one of the more exciting big play cornerbacks in the country. He's had to work to get himself back into the good graces of head coach Chip Kelly, however, after a well documented summer off the field.

As talented as Harris is, at 5-11 and 175 pounds, he'll have a tough challenge tonight against Allen and Jones, who are each listed at 6-3, 205 pounds.

Allen, a true sophomore, impressed last season catching 46 passes for 490 yards and five touchdowns. He's already nearly eclipsed these numbers this year, hauling in a team-leading 30 passes for 498 yards and three scores, including a 10-catch, 197 yard, one score effort last Saturday against Washington.

Jones is quietly gaining traction with scouts as one of the more interesting later round receivers of the 2012 draft. Possessing an intriguing combination of size and overall athleticism, he's flashed big play ability throughout his career (10 career touchdowns) and is averaging a career high 16.3 yards per reception thus far this season (on 23 catches).


Posted on: April 24, 2011 3:00 pm
 

Minnesota Vikings Draft Preview

Minnesota Vikings 2010 record: 6-10, fourth place NFC West

2011 draft rundown - Nine total picks (round): 12 (1); 43 (2); 106 (4); 139 (5); 150 (5); 172 (6); 200 (6); 215 (7) 236 (7)

Top needs:   

Quarterback: Favre had a miserable 2010 season after a spectacular 2009 and has called it quits for a third time. That's fine with the Vikings, who feel it's time for them to move on. Frazier's preference would be to draft a quarterback and have that player develop under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Defensive line: Starting left end Ray Edwards is expected to be a free agent when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is reached and that means the Vikings will be in search of a starter. Brian Robison signed an extension just before the lockout, but he might be best suited as a situational pass rusher. Everson Griffen, a fourth-round pick last year, has talent but has had off-the-field issues this offseason and is considered less than reliable.

Offensive line: Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson is 34 years old, center John Sullivan has yet to establish himself and right guard Anthony Herrera is coming off a knee injury. This unit needs to get younger and add depth. And that's not even getting into the fact that Bryant McKinnie is considered a chronic underachiever, despite the fact many teams probably would like to have the massive left tackle.


First-round focus   12th overall -- The Vikings had to be impressed by the level of play of rookie Joe Webb last year as the former wide receiver shocked the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football* (*actually played on Tuesday) with a solid all-around performance. Even with Webb's impressive performance, the Vikings are expected to look for another young quarterback to groom now that Brett Favre has retired (and will presumably remain so). The Vikings have been linked to Washington's Jake Locker, as his mobility, upside and intangibles are thought to be very highly valued by the Vikings. Minnesota is also thought to be high on the upside of Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and view Florida State's Christian Ponder and TCU's Andy Dalton as ideal fits in their offense, as well, but may not have a first round grade on these three passers. Should the Vikings elect to push off their needs at quarterback, addressing their concern at defensive end is also a strong possibility. Veteran Ray Edwards is scheduled for free agency and could be one of the more sought-after talents whenever the league and union make amends. The Vikings could look to take advantage of this year's rare talent and depth along the defensive line with the No. 12 pick, overall. The team is thought to have Cal's Cameron Jordan, Wisconsin's JJ Watt and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan closely rated and as such might be willing to trade down a few spots should all three be on the board. Jordan would be a particularly intriguing fit considering that his father, Steve Jordan, was a Pro Bowl tight end for the Vikings from 1982-1994.  The Vikings are thought likely to consider an interior offensive lineman at some point in the draft. Florida's Mike Pouncey would be a bit of a reach at No. 12, but would solidify the unit due to his size, strength and versatility.

Five names on Vikings' board:   
QB Jake Locker, Washington
DE Cameron Jordan, California
DE JJ Watt, Wisconsin
DE Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
OL Mike Pouncey, Florida
Posted on: December 27, 2010 4:30 pm
 

All-star games improving selection process

Having attended senior all-star games such as the Senior Bowl, East-West Shrine Game and Hula Bowl since 2001, I'm typically very impressed with the scouting departments in charge of locating the talent for these contests. There was a time not too long ago when I'd attend a senior all-star game and see prospects whose production was very obviously a result of their scheme or their invitations just as obviously due to playing on a high profile team.

As technology improves, however, their talent scouts have become even better at recognizing gaudy statistics as an indicator of talent, but not necessarily as the end-all, be-all way to find diamond in the rough prospects.

Take Hawaii wideout Greg Salas as an example. Salas caught 106 passes for 1,590 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior, earning All-WAC recognition and even some Biletnikof Award hype. Like many Warrior receivers before him, his production is enhanced by Hawaii's dynamic offense.

Still, whenever I speak to scouts about underrated prospects, Salas' name comes up. He once again was statistically dominant in 2010. In fact, Salas led the FBS with 1,675 receiving yards this season and has an eye-popping 4,345 yards over his career. More important that stats, however, is Salas' size (6-2, 210) and underrated combination of speed and elusiveness. I've spoken to teams who rate Salas among the top three senior wideouts in the draft -- as I'm sure has the Senior Bowl -- who invited Salas to their game back in October.

Arizona pass rusher Brooks Reed is another example. At 6-3, 262 pounds he doesn't have the bulk to remain at defensive end -- which in the past may have, in itself, been enough to keep him from earning a post-season invite to an all-star game. With half of the NFL playing the 3-4 scheme, there will be no shortage of teams looking at Reed as a rush linebacker. I'm not sure I agree with the comparisons some insiders had made between Reed and Packers' star Clay Matthews, Jr. but I do believe Reed's burst, hands and tenacity are enough to make him effective off the edge in the NFL. The senior all-star game -- in this case the Senior Bowl -- is doing its job of providing prospects an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do. 

Each year, however, there are a few prospects who slide under the radar that I believe should get the attention of the all-star game's talent evaluators. It is entirely possible that any and all of these (and other) all-star games are considering these prospects. However, with the bowl games increasingly turning towards technology (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to release their rosters, the invitation process is much more transparent than in the past.

Here are three prospects that I have not yet seen be recognized with an invitation to the primary senior all-star games venues. I believe if they are, they'll impress there.

TCU OT Marcus Cannon : I listed Cannon a few days ago as one of the combatants in the five individual matchups I'm most looking forward to scouting during the bowl games. It remains to be seen how often Wisconsin elects to line up their star defensive lineman JJ Watt against Cannon. If they're wise, they'll pick their spots carefully. At 6-5, 350 pounds Cannon's athleticism is jaw-dropping. Andy Dalton gets most of the attention for TCU, but in terms of pro prospects, Cannon is the Horned Frogs' top talent... and folks, it ain't even close.

California FS Chris Conte : In a weak year for senior safeties, Conte's size (6-3, 212) and athleticism stand out. We all know that NFL teams love to move collegiate offensive tackles inside to guard. I feel that just as natural a transition can be made in moving big collegiate corners (who can tackle in space) to the safety position. Conte has already done it, earning First Team Pac-10 honors in his first full year at free safety this season after backing up at corner throughout his career.

New Mexico OT Byron Bell : NFL and all-star game scouts alike may be a little late in noticing Bell due to the fact that he entered this season characterized by New Mexico as a redshirt junior. The NCAA, however, ruled against his request that his 2007 season be ruled a medical hardship, meaning that Bell's career with the Lobos is over. At 6-5, 325 pounds Bell has surprising lateral agility and flexibility and will soon be flying up boards. Remember how shocked we all were when the Minnesota Vikings took former Lobo Ryan Cook in the second round in 2006? With an invitation to an all-star game, I believe Bell could make a similar leap.

For the best in NFL draft coverage, be sure to check back frequently at NFLDraftScout.com or by simply clicking here.

Posted on: December 5, 2010 1:44 pm
 

With one pass, Locker's stock steadies

I have been as critictal of Washington quarterback Jake Locker's struggles as anyone. He entered this season as a prohibitive favorite to be the first senior selected in the 2011 draft and now I do not currently project him among the Top 32 in my first round mock draft.

Part of the reason for Locker's downfall has been the expectations placed upon him after what appeared to be a breakout junior season under Steve Sarkisian. Locker made such strides in his first season under Sarkisian that it was natural to believe he'd make similar gains year two.

It hasn't happened. Locker is still too often fooled by coverages and is highly inconsistent with his accuracy. Those two facts, regardless of how athletic a quarterback might be, have historically translated into struggles at the NFL level.

Scouts can't just write off Locker as a project, however.  That's because, as he again demonstrated last night in a thrilling Apple Cup victory over state rival Washington State, Locker has shown the ability to make accurate throws when the pressure is highest.

Now, let's be clear. Locker was bad -- not just bad, abysmal - in home losses this season to Nebraska and Stanford, the two best defenses he faced all season long. Considering the expectations placed on him, one could argue those two games were the ones he faced the most "pressure" and therefore my argument doesn't appear to hold water.

However, anyone who has watched the Huskies play this season knows about the struggles they've had on the offensive line. This isn't an excuse for Locker. Washington has started a staggering six different lineups along the offensive line. Teams with physical defensive lines -- like Nebraska and Stanford -- have so thoroughly dominated UW up front that Locker had no chance.

Rather, by "pressure," I mean that Locker has been able to make accurate throws when the game is on the line. He's demonstrated this ability often after he's been average (or worse) throughout much of the rest of the game. It is a big reason why, as Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times notes, four of Washington's six victories this season have come in the "final minute or in their last possession of the game ."

Locker demonstrated this ability to make legitimate NFL throws in critical moments in Washington's upsets over USC and Cal each of the past two years and the win over Washington State last night. Folks, that may not sound like many games, but when you've been as bad as Washington has been (Duke and Baylor are the only BCS teams with a longer bowl game drought), there haven't been many opportunities to scout Locker in "pressure" situations.

Again, don't get me wrong. Locker was fair from great last night. It was the Huskies' redshirt sophomore running back Chris Polk who won this game. His jaw-dropping 284 rushing yards and two touchdowns made life much easier on Locker and will be a featured component Monday in my Weekly Rewind feature . Locker, in fact, wasn't even the best quarterback on the field last night. The Cougars' sophomore quarterback Jeff Tuel was spectacular, providing ample evidence that WSU head coach Paul Wulff is doing an admirable job of turning around WSU's program.

But, on the 4th quarter drive to earn a bowl game or end his collegiate career, Locker threw a perfect 27-yard fade to Jermaine Kearse with 44 seconds left to win it. Peyton Manning doesn't throw that pass with better touch, timing or placement than Locker did on that critical play. Here is the link to watch the throw.

And that, in a nutshell, is why Jake Locker is the most frustrating quarterback I've ever scouted. He made some of the same errors in this game that he's made throughout his career. In calling for eight consecutive running plays (six by Polk, two by Locker) on that final drive, scouts are left to wonder whether Sarkisian simply trusted his running game or didn't trust Locker's passing to put the Huskies in position to kick the game-winning field goal.

But, when the play was called to go for the throat, Locker delivered. As Football Outsiders and Sports Press Northwest's writer Doug Farrar noted on Twitter , "That's the throw they're going to show through the entire pre-draft process when everyone's debating Locker's NFL QB ability."

With that one throw, Locker again proved that he can make accurate throws in critical moments. I, like A LOT of scouts I speak to, am not convinced that Locker will ever get past his struggles reading coverage or inconsistent ball placement and be a successful NFL quarterback.

But throws like that one - in moments like that one - provide the evidence that perhaps he can.
Posted on: November 26, 2010 1:03 pm
 

Five Prospects I'll be Focusing on This Weekend

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.

Because I'm scouting them in real time these players make an early impression, often leading to consideration as my Prospect of the Week or Diamond in the Rough.

Even more often, however, it 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 and I break down six more players in Filmroom Notes, update our Top 32 prospects overall, Top 10 per position, Risers/Fallers for multiple games and offer extensive previews of the next week's action. I boast about our product for a simple reason: Having seen everything else out there - it is the most complete weekly NFL draft guide on the planet. 

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 Cam Newton, Auburn : Newton has been dazzling this season and could lock up the Heisman Trophy with a strong performance against Alabama. More importantly to those of us eager to see how well he'll translate his game to the NFL is how well Newton is able to decipher the exotic blitz and coverage schemes Nick Saban and his staff have devised. In terms of Newton's pro stock, this is the most important regular season game of his life. This game begins at 2:30 pm EST Friday and will be televised by CBS.

CB Jimmy Smith, Colorado : The Buffs don't get a lot of national exposure considering their struggles recently, but this important Big 12 showdown against Nebraska will pit Smith, one of the top senior cornerbacks, against a receiver in Nebraska's Niles Paul every bit his match in terms of size and athleticism. The Cornhuskers, of course, rely mostly on their running game and should be able to do so again Friday to beat an overmatched Colorado team. How Smith is able to keep up with the multi-talented Paul, however, should give scouts a good idea as to how the 6-2, 205 pound Smith will be acclimate to the speed of the NFL. I've spoken to scouts who have compared Smith to former Pro Bowler Chris McAlister. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST Friday and will be televised by ABC/ESPN.

DE/OLB Dontay Moch, Nevada: The pre-game hype will focus on the offense, but it could be whatever defense shows up in the Boise State-Nevada showdown that gives their team the victory. Moch enters this game as the country's active career leader with 60.5 tackles for loss. The 6-1, 242 pound Moch lines up as a defensive end for the Wolfpack, but projects best as a standup pass rushing OLB in the NFL. Moch wowed scouts in the spring by clocking in at 4.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash, but there are concerns that Moch is overly reliant on his speed. While fast in a straight-line, scouts are more interested to see how well he changes directions. Moch won the WAC Defensive Player of the Year as a junior (61 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks) and is on pace to exceed those totals this season (52 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks). This game begins at 10:15 pm EST Friday and will be televised by ESPN.

QB Jake Locker, Washington: The Huskies have struggled with teams that are more physical on the offensive and defensive lines than they are and that is precisely what awaits them Saturday against Cal. Washington and California are each fighting for their bowl lives and the Golden Bears have revenge on their side after the Huskies trounced them 42-10 last season in Seattle. Locker entered the year rated by most (including me) as the No. 1 prospect in the country based largely on how he played down the stretch last season. His best game was his last one -- againt California -- in which he completed 19 of 23 passes for 248 yards and three TDs (0 INTs) and ran for another 77 yards and two scores. A performance like that would almost surely result in a win for the Huskies and spot back in my first round projection. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST Saturday and will be televised regionally by Fox Sports.

WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State*: With the three top-rated teams in the country playing on Friday, there hasn't yet been a great deal of focus on this year's Bedlam rivalry outside of the state of Oklahoma, but it's coming -- after all, the Big 12 South division title is riding on this game. This game features two of the elite young receiver prospects in the country in Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Blackmon -- the favorite to win the Biletnikof Award as the nation's best at the position. Blackmon has been spectacular this season, catching an eye-popping 94 passes for 1,560 yards and 17 touchdowns. It is his consistency that has been perhaps most impressive. Blackmon has caught at least five passes for at least 125 yards and one touchdown in every game he's played this season (he missed the Kansas State game). A redshirt sophomore, Blackmon is eligible to leave OSU early for the NFL. He hasn't faced a secondary as talented as Oklahoma's yet this season, so this game provides scouts an excellent opportunity to see him matched up against quality athletes and a sound defensive scheme.  This game begins at 8:00 pm EST Saturday and will be televised by ABC/ESPN. 


Posted on: November 12, 2010 8:59 pm
 

Five Prospects I'll Be Scouting Closely Saturday

Each week I list the five prospects that I'll be focusing on. 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.

As a side note, I initially planned to include Auburn junior quarterback Cam Newton (heard of him?) on this list. With speculation Friday evening that he may not play, I elected to leave him off this list of five. Needless to say, he's among the prospects I'll be scouting closely if he plays Saturday (and any future games).

Those interested in scouting "alongside" me can follow me on Twitter @RobRang.

Without any further adieu, here are the five prospects, as well as the cable provider and time you can expect to see them.
TE Luke Stocker, Tennessee: Entering the season the Volunteer receiver I expected to be highlighting so far this season would have been Stocker and not wideout Denarius Moore. The Vols simply haven't passed the ball enough to Stocker (24 grabs for 264 yards and one TD) for him to post the type of numbers that generate much media attention, but at 6-5, 253 pounds and possessing good hands and feet for the position, he remains one of the better senior prospects at tight end. There are several highly touted, but so far disappointing prospects on the Tennessee and Ole Miss rosters. I'm looking forward to this game to see which of them (if any) can shake out of their season-long funk. This game begins at 12:00 pm EST and will be televised by CBS.

QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri*: Though he's only a junior, scouts are starting to take a long look at Gabbert and the rest of the underclassmen quarterbacks simply because this year's seniors at the position have been so underwhelming. Gabbert has the production (2,193 passing yards, 12 TDs-3 INTs), size (6-5, 240), and efficient delivery that scouts are looking for in a high-ranking prospect, but after a hot start to the season, he (and Missouri, as a whole) has struggled over the past two weeks, suffering losses to Nebraska and Texas Tech. Scouts want to see if Gabbert can bounce back this week against a quality opponent in Kansas State. This game begins at 12:30 pm EST and will be regionally televised by the FOX Sports Network.  

CB Brandon Burton, Utah*: Burton, only a junior, is considered by some scouts to be the best draft-eligible cornerback in the west. While he's played very well throughout his career with the Utes, Burton was beaten for a 93-yard touchdown reception by wideout Josh Boyce last week in the humbling 47-7 home loss to TCU. Scouts like Burton's size (6'0, 185) and speed (estimated at 4.45), but want to see if he can come back with a strong performance this week. That will be tougher than it sounds, as at times he'll match up with Notre Dame's Michael Floyd, himself highly touted NFL prospect (though also only a junior) who at 6-3, 225 pounds is a much different assignment than Boyce and the rest of the Horned Frog receivers were last week. This game begins at 2:30 pm EST and will be televised by NBC.

OT Danny Watkins, Baylor: Quarterback Robert Griffin III and even defensive tackle Phil Taylor have each received their share of media attention as a result of Baylor's 7-3 season. It was Watkins, however, whose draft stock has risen the most this season. Draft Slant readers know full well how high Watkins' stock has risen as I wrote about his performance in last week's game against Oklahoma State. This week, however, Watkins will be facing an entirely different opponent in Texas A&M pass rusher Von Miller, my reigning Prospect of the Week. Watkins' quick feet and use of leverage have been impressive this season, but he'll be sorely tested by Miller. This game begins at 7:00 pm EST and will be regionally televised by Fox Sports Network.

DE Cameron Jordan, California: Those surprised with how high former Cal Golden Bear Tyson Alualu was drafted last year may want to start paying attention to Jordan, who, himself is earning top 20 grades from some talent evaluators. Jordan won't beat No. 1 Oregon on his own, but he and his Cal teammates will present the Ducks with a different look, considering that they are one of the few teams that operates out of a base 3-4 defense. Jordan has always been productive for Cal, earning all-conference recognition after each of the past two seasons. He enjoyed arguably his best game to date last week against an overmatched Washington State club, totaling 12 tackles, including four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Scouts love his size (6-4, 285), versatility and blood lines. His father, Steve Jordan, played in six Pro Bowls in 13 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. This game begins at 7:30 pm EST and will be televised by Versus.


Posted on: October 8, 2010 7:45 pm
 

5 Senior Prospects I'll be Focusing On Saturday

Each weekend I list the five senior prospects I'll be focusing on. These are players who appear to have challenging matchups that will help determine how well they'll be able to make the transition to the pro game.

A noteworthy performance (either positive or negative) can result in the player being profiled in our upcoming edition of Draft Slant, NFLDraftScout.com's weekly PDF file for premium subscribers.

Last week I profiled Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell, Oklahoma running back DeMarco Murray, USC cornerback Shareece Wright, Alabama OT James Carpenter and Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi.

Ponder had a solid, but unspectacular game last weekend against Virginia. Though he has a much tougher opponent this weekend at Miami, I elected to write about him considering that there are very few teams across the country who boast a better pair of cornerbacks than the Cavaliers' duo of senior Ras-I Dowling and junior Chase Minnifield (son of former Cleveland Browns' standout Frank).

That doesn't mean, of course, that I won't be watching him again this weekend. In fact, in terms of his pro grade, Ponder's performance Saturday against the 'Canes is as important as any game he'll play all year long.

Which is why he's among my Five Seniors to Watch -- and, as it turns out, the only player on the offenside side of the line of scrimmage: 

ILB Greg Jones, Michigan State: For all of the talk of the talented defensive linemen and cornerbacks of this senior class, for my money there isn't a safer defensive prospect in the country than Jones. A four year starter who has never missed a game in his career, Jones nonetheless will be questioned by scouts as to how a 6-1, 235 pound linebacker is going to be able to handle the physicality of the NFL. Over the first few weeks of the season, Wolverines' star quarterback Denard Robinson has emerged as the Heisman favorite. He hasn't faced an instinctive and speedy linebacker like Jones yet, though. If Jones has the 15+ tackle game I think he will in this game, he could emerge as an early favorite for Player of the Week honors. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by ABC/ESPN.

DT David Carter, UCLA: A rising name due to the fact that at 6-5, 300 pounds he has the bulk and strength to play inside at defensive tackle or move outside to play the five-technique as a 3-4 defensive end, Carter flashed on tape last weekend against the Washington State Cougars, posting three sacks. If he is to emerge as a legitimate draftable prospect, he'll need to continue his breakout senior campaign this week in an interesting Pac-10 showdown with Cal. An interesting side note - Carter is the brother of Fresno State pass rusher Chris Carter. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by regional FOX coverage.

OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M:
Having recorded 17 sacks last season, Miller entered this year as one of the more heavily hyped pass rushers in all of college football. In fact, he was the Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. After four games, however, Miller has yet to record his first sack and is in danger of seeing his draft stock plummet. In all fairness to Miller, he's struggled with a knee sprain all year long and has shown impressive toughness playing through it. It is obvious that he has lacked the explosive first step this year he showed in 2010. Injured or not, scouts want to see some production. He'll have his hands full against a talented Arkansas offensive line, but the relative immobility of 6-6 quarterback Ryan Mallett may help him boost his numbers. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by ABC/ESPN.

DT Drake Nevis, LSU:
Few players across the country have boosted their stock as significantly as Nevis thus far this season. The 6-1, 292 pounder doesn't possess the elite size that scouts would prefer, but his explosiveness as a pass rusher can't be ignored. Nevis has already twice been recognized as the SEC's Defensive Lineman of the Week and is second in the conference with 3.5 sacks. The Gators are experienced and talented up front so if Nevis is able to make plays in this contest he certainly deserves the early attention he's been receiving. This game begins at 7:30 pm EST and will be televised by ESPN.

QB Christian Ponder, Florida State:
Ponder showed the mobility, high football IQ and accuracy in the short/intermediate levels against Virginia last weekend that NFL teams like about him, but he has not been as productive thus far as hoped.  Ponder will have to play the best game of his season so far if he is to enjoy success against a supremely talented Miami defense.  Ponder enjoyed a bit of a breakout performance last year against the 'Canes with a then-career high 294 passing yards and two touchdowns (against one interception). This game begins at 8:00 pm EST and will be televised by ABC.
Posted on: September 17, 2010 5:36 pm
 

Sleeper pass rushers tonight in Cal-Nevada game

Their high power offenses are sure to be the focus of tonight's California-Nevada game (10 pm EST, ESPN2), but NFL scouts will be just as curious to watch two underrated pass rushers also playing in this contest.

I listed California defensive end Cameron Jordan among the top ten senior prospects in the Pac-10 heading into the year and, thus far, he's proving to be every bit worth the early attention.

Jordan was a consideration for Player of the Week honors for his performance last Saturday against highly touted Colorado offensive tackle Nate Solder. Jordan, 6-4 and 285 pounds, earned Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 accolades last year with 43 tackles, eigh tackles for loss and five sacks. His solid game was often overshadowed by Tyson Alualu, who, of course, was the surprise No. 10 overall pick of the draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jordan, like Alualu, plays defensive end in Cal's 3-4 scheme. While he doesn't possess elite speed off the edge, he uses his hands well and plays with very good power. He projects nicely as a base end in the 4-3, or could simply remain as a five-technique in the 3-4 at the next level.

Nevada's Dontay Moch is the more explosive pass rusher of the two. At 6-2, 236 pounds, he lacks the bulk to remain at defensive end in the NFL, but he proved to scouts the overall athleticism to handle the transition to outside linebacker by clocking in at a verified 4.25 seconds in spring drills.

Moch operated last year opposite Kevin Basped. You might remember Basped as the outside linebacker whose troublesome knees forced the Jets to cut him on an early episode of the HBO series, Hard Knocks.

Basped and Moch working in tandem gave the Wolfpack one of the more ferocious pass rushes in the entire country last year. Moch, in fact, entered his senior year with 42 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks.

Without Basped, Moch has struggled to make the same impact thus far in 2010. Through the first two games of the season, the reigning WAC Defensive Player of the Year has only five total tackles -- though, not surprisingly, he also has a sack and a forced fumble.

Whether you watch the game for the underrated NFL prospects, or just to see an intriguing inter-conference battle between two western schools, this should be a fun game. If nothing else, it will make for interesting Friday night drama, as California enters the game as the nation's top-rated defense. Nevada is the top-rated offense.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com