Each week, in preparation for Draft Slant and the handing out of my weekly awards for Prospect of the Week and Diamond in the Rough, I list five prospects on the blog that I'll be focusing on.
This week is no different -- though with such a huge slate of games -- I can go back to my customary role of focusing on just senior players, rather than dabbling with some underclassmen last week.
Because I'm spending the entire day scouting, I typically don't post more than once or twice on the blog on Saturdays. I do, however, invite you to scout "alongside" me by following me on Twitter.
Without any further adieu, here are this week's big five senior prospects:
CB Ras-I Dowling, Virginia: Dowling entered the year as one of NFLDraftScout.com's top 32 seniors and I yet I elected not to include him in my recent mock draft . The reason is that Dowling has been hobbled by a nagging hamstring injury and was only able to see his first playing time of the season last week against Virginia Military Institute. Dowling was not his typically dominant self, getting beaten deep on a long pass, as well as getting flagged for pass interference. And that was against VMI. Don't put it past Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder and his aggressive head coach Jimbo Fisher to test Dowling early. This game begins at noon EST and will be televised by ESPN.
RB DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma: Murray has earned NFLDraftScout.com's top grade among senior running backs, but if he is to legitimize his standing as a potential first round pick, this is the type of game where he'll need to show up big. This game may lack the sizzle of Red River Rivalries of the past, but even with Mack Brown's Longhorns struggle offensively, they typically play stout defense -- and this year's squad looks no different. Murray's ability to break outside for long gains, as well as his reliable hands out of the backfield, should make him the focus of the Texas defensive game plan, not stopping the Sooner passing game. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by ABC.
OT Marcus Gilbert, Florida: Florida linemate Mike Pouncey has generated most of the buzz (both good and bad) thus far this season, but Gilbert's play in this SEC Championship rematch against Alabama could play a key role in determining the winner. Gilbert, the Gators' right tackle, will be matched up against talented junior Marcell Dareus. Dareus struggled last week against Arkansas with a sprained ankle, but is a legitimate first round talent when healthy. If Gilbert (6-5, 320) is able to handle Dareus, the Gators chances of moving the ball against this talented Crimson Tide defense grow significantly. This game begins at 8 pm EST and will be televised by CBS.
QB Jake Locker, Washington: Admittedly I could justify putting Locker on here every weekend but I'm betting that you're just as curious as I am as to how he performs in this, his first game since the Nebraska debacle. Locker doesn't have to win this game to right the ship in terms of his own slipping draft grade. He does, however, have to show improved accuracy and decision-making against a Trojan team looking for revenge. Remember, it was Locker and the Huskies' upset over the Trojans last year that some say led to the "fall of Troy." With the Huskies desperate to prove that the Nebraska game was a fluke and USC just as desperate to prove they remain among the Pac-10's elite, this game has all of the drama, but so much less of the hype of the day's monster showdowns. This game begins at 8 pm EST and will be televised by ESPN2.
DT/NG Sione Pua, Stanford: The young and dynamic skill position prospects in the Oregon-Stanford will get all of the attention and rightfully so. Pua, however, is one of the draft's more underrated run stuffers. If he can control the middle of the line of scrimmage and force Oregon running back LaMichael James outside, the Cardinal could force young Duck quarterback Darron Thomas to beat them. The last two defenses that were as physical as Stanford's gave the Ducks plenty of trouble -- Arizona State gave Oregon quite a scare last week and Ohio State beat the Ducks in the Rose Bowl. The winner of this game, I believe, becomes the odds on favorite to represent the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl this year. This game begins at 8 pm EST and will be televised by ABC/ESPN.