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.
One of the players prominently featured in last week's "Who to Watch..." was Nebraska wideout Niles Paul . Last week in the loss to Texas, Paul demonstrated the athleticism and size combination that has led scouts to get excited about his game, but also the terribly inconsistent hands that has plagued him throughout his career. Twice, in fact, Paul dropped potential touchdowns against the Longhorns.
Scouting isn't just about touting players who play well on the big stage. It is about acknowledging those players who struggled under the bright lights. Perhaps Paul (and others) will improve once they get another opportunity. Perhaps not. Either way, how they perform in this critical situations goes a long way in determining their final grade.
Here are this week's Five to Watch:
QB Ricky Stanzi, Iowa: I mentioned in a previous blog post that NFL teams looking for help at quarterback might be forced to turn towards underclassmen as many of the senior passers have struggled so far this season. Stanzi is one of the few exceptions. The 6-4, 230 pound Stanzi has struggled with consistency in years past, but has thrown 13 touchdowns against only two interceptions while operating out of a pro style offense. He's always shown the tools to intrigue NFL scouts and could be on the verge of a monster jump up boards if he's able to continue what so far has been a magical senior campaign. That said, in unbeaten Wisconsin, Stanzi has one of the tougher, more technically sound defenses he'll see all year long. This game could prove critical in how Stanzi is viewed by scouts the rest of the year. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by ABC/ESPN.
DE Cameron Jordan, Cal: A nationally underrated prospect, Jordan has been as impressive this year as any senior defensive lineman I've scouted. His numbers aren't necessarily eye-popping. Through six games this season, he's posted 24 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, but remember that Cal operates out of a 3-4 alignment, which doesn't put the defensive ends in position very often to make plays. Many were surprised last year when former Cal defensive end Tyson Alualu was the 10th overall pick of the draft. Jordan doesn't have that kind of upside, but he is sneaking up on scouts a bit. If he were playing in the SEC or Big 12, most college football fans would know his name by now. It will be interesting to see how Jordan performs in this game, considering the versatility and young talent on this ASU offense. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by Fox regional coverage.
RB Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State: The fifth leading rusher in the FBS, Hunter has rushed for an eye-popping 830 yards and scored 10 touchdowns on the ground over the first six weeks of the season. He'll be facing a much stouter run defense Saturday against the Cornhuskers, however. Like many smallish backs the 5-8, 197 pound Hunter is often characterized as a speedy, change of pace prospect only. If he is to have a chance at shedding that label, he could use a strong performance at home against Nebraska. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by ABC/ESPN.
ILB Kelvin Sheppard, LSU: I've characterized LSU junior cornerback Patrick Peterson as the best defensive player in the country on multiple occasions and acknowledged defensive tackle Drake Nevis as a former Prospect of the Week. Somehow, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard rarely seems to get the credit he deserves. He leads the top-rated SEC defense against Auburn's dynamic offense Saturday in what is the biggest game of the weekend. Sheppard has the speed to beat the Auburn backs (and quarterback Cam Newton) to the sideline. How he handles coverage and pass rush responsibilities could prove critical in this one. This game begins at 3:30 pm EST and will be televised by CBS.
DL Allen Bailey, Miami: Bailey entered the season as highly touted as any defensive lineman in the country. One look at him and it is easy to see why, as the 6-4, 285 pounder owns more of the more imposing physiques you'll ever seen on a defensive lineman. That said, through the first six games of the year Bailey has only accumulated 21 tackles and five tackles for loss. Last week, against Duke, Bailey only registered two tackles, including just his second sack of the year. Voted a team captain, Bailey may have to turn it up a notch Saturday against North Carolina to get his teammates on track. The 'Canes, after all, have lost three straight to the Tar Heels. This game begins at 7:30 pm EST and will be televised on ESPN2.