Each week as part of my and fellow Senior Analyst Chad Reuter's preparation for our weekly Draft Slant feature I list five prospects that I'll be focusing on during Saturday's games.*
I list the players here, but those of you who would like to scout "alongside" me, you can follow me on Twitter @RobRang .
OT Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: There is a great deal of debate among scouts as to who is the top senior offensive tackle in the country. Castonzo has his share of supporters and it isn't difficult to understand why. Castonzo, 6-7 and 308 pounds, is light on his feet and has the strong BC reputation of producing quality NFL offensive linemen helping him. Castonzo is high cut, however, and struggles with the bull rush. He'll be facing an athletic and physical Virginia Tech defense Saturday. I'm very curious to see how he fares. Game begins at 12:00 pm EST and will be televised by ESPN.
DL Marcell Dareus, Alabama: Like most college football fans, this is the game I'm most looking forward to watching. Dareus didn't do much in his first game back from his two game suspension (one TFL against Duke) to start the season, but he and the rest of the Tide's ability to get Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett moving will be key in this game. Scouts want to see if Dareus is as dominant without Terrance Cody, Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deaderick taking the pressure off of him. Dareus stars as a defensive end in Nick Saban's 3-4 scheme, but is being heavily scouted by 4-3 teams who like him as a defensive tackle, as well. Though Dareus is only a junior, scouts tell me he's a virtual guarantee to come out after this season. Game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by CBS.
RB Evan Royster, Penn State: For all of his success, Royster has always struck me as a better college player than NFL prospect. He's shown enough courage, leg drive and burst to be successful in a one-cut offense (ala Arian Foster, Ryan Grant), but like these two NFL standouts, I don't see the straight-line speed or wiggle that typically earns anything higher than a mid round selection -- despite terrific production over his career. That production came in the past, however, as Royster has really struggled this season. In fact, he only eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the season last week in the Nittany Lions' third game of the year. Penn State hosts an underrated Temple squad Saturday. This will either be the game Royster gets back into the groove or truly begins to slip out of the minds of NFL scouts. Game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by Big Ten Network.
OG Andrew Jackson, Fresno State: "The President" has helped Fresno State be one of the best power rushing offenses over the past few seasons, earning All-WAC honors each of the past two seasons. (Of course, some guy named Ryan Matthews helped too). Jackson, however, has never had to face a defensive line with the strength and athleticism that Ole Miss boasts. Jackson is big (6-5, 295) and strong, but so too is NG Jerrell Powe. This game certainly isn't getting the hype of this weekend's monster games, but with the Rebels already getting upset at home once this year and Pat Hill's reputation for his team playing the big boys tough, I think this game could be a better scouting opportunity than most think. Game begins at 7:30 pm EST and will be televised by ESPN.
DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State: Boise State has defeated their share of top opponents over the years. Many across the country won't be impressed by a home victory over the Beavers. They should, however, as the Beavers feature two of the most dynamic all-purpose weapons in college football in the Rodgers Bros. and a legitimate first round caliber defensive tackle in Paea. It is Paea that might actually play the bigger role in the Beavers' upset bid Saturday night. In nearly all of Heisman contender Kellen Moore's toughest games, he's enjoyed stellar pass protection. Paea's ability to collapse the pocket from the inside could be especially troublesome for Moore, who at 6-0, 187 pounds simply doesn't have the height to throw over constant interior pressure. Paea's game has always been his ability to hold up to double-teams in the running game. There won't be a better time for him to prove to scouts that he can rush the passer than this game. Game begins at 8 pm EST and will be televised by ABC/ESPN.
* While I'm generally focus on the senior prospects, I have to admit that I'm also keeping a close eye on underclassmen quarterbacks Andrew Luck , Nick Foles and Mallett -- especially considering how poorly the top senior QBs have faired thus far this season.
Luck should continue his strong start to the season (10 TDs/O INTs) against Notre Dame. Luck could miss his underrated senior WR Ryan Whalen, but the reality is the Irish simply aren't gifted enough defensively to slow down this offense.
Foles will be facing a physical and talented Cal defense that was embarrassed last week by Nevada. This is a home game for the Wildcats, but don't be surprised if the Golden Bears give him a tougher test than he's had all year long.
I'm not as high on Mallett as others seem to be, but acknowledge that two of the primary concerns I've had for him in the past -- poise in the pocket and overall mobility -- he's shown significant improvement in thus far this season. Of course, he hasn't faced a defense like Alabama's yet. Mallett's performance against the Tide -- good or bad -- could prove every bit the story that Jake Locker's struggles against Nebraska were.