For the rest of the 2012 college football regular season, I will be listing "Five prospects" each Friday that I'll be focusing on for the upcoming weekend.
In reality, I'm focusing on dozens of prospects each week, not just the five I've highlighted below. The players listed 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 as the season goes on. Underclassmen are denoted with an asterisk.*
Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State: Possessing shocking athleticism for a man listed at 6-3, 320 pounds, Hankins, a junior, looks like a potential top five pick in either the 2013 or 2014 NFL draft. He's recorded jut five tackles (including .5 tackles for loss and zero sacks) in the Buckeyes' thrashings of Central Florida and Miami (of Ohio) thus far, but could be in postition to make several more plays this weekend against Cal, the first somewhat legitimate foe Ohio State will face this season. Cal has struggled with consistency, but if healthy, their offensive line would be a solid change for Hankins and the rest of the talented Buckeyes' defensive front. Center Brian Schwenke has played himself into an NFL draft pick since sliding over from left guard and right tackle Matt Summers-Gavin, who is questionable for this game with a knee injury, also entered the season highly regarded by scouts. Hankins needs a strong performance to prove he's worthy of his hype. This game begins at noon eastern and will be televised by ABC.
Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina: Like Hankins, Williams will be facing top-flight competition in Louisville center Mario Benavides, currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 7-rated center for the 2013 draft. Benavides, however, is undersized at 6-2, 282 pounds. His quickness could get the better of Williams, on occasion, but the big (6-3, 320) UNC defensive tackle should be able to collapse the middle with his size and strength advantage. He has certainly done so thus far this season, recording 2.5 sacks already this year. Should Williams continue his impressive early play, he could earn first round consideration simply because he possesses such great upside due to his combination of size and athleticism. This game begins at noon eastern and will be televised by ESPN.
Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas: With star quarterback Tyler Wilson not expected to be available to play Saturday against the top-rated defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, points could be tough to come by for the Razorbacks. As such, the team will be looking to their "other" skill position stars to carry the load, including running back Knile Davis and Hamilton, the team's leading returning pass-catcher. Hamilton certainly has a tough test ahead of him. The Tide appears to have yet another first round caliber cornerback in Dee Milliner, who likely will draw Hamilton on most routes. At 6-2, 209 pounds, however, Hamilton has the size to handle the tough draw and enough speed to sneak downfield and give the Razorbacks big play opportunities. Hamilton isn't the elite prospect his hype might lead you to believe. He's currently ranked as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 20 receiver for the 2013 draft. A big showing against the Tide, however, could certainly push him up the board. This game is scheduled to begin at 3:30 pm eastern and will be televised by CBS.
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford: With Andrew Luck and three other First Team All-Pac 12 members of their offense now playing in the NFL (Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro, Coby Fleener), the greatest NFL talent for the Cardinal now lies on the defensive side of the ball. Inside linebacker Shayne Skov gets most of the attention but Thomas emerged as a star last season when Skov went down with injury, recording 52 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks a season ago earning a spot on my Big Board. Thus far this season he's kept up the pace, recording 12 stops, including three tackles for loss and half a sack in the first two games. Against the incredibly talented USC Trojans, Thomas and the rest of the Stanford defense will have their hands full. That fact should give talent evaluators a great opportunity to scout Thomas against legitimate NFL-caliber talent playing in a pro-style attack. This game is scheduled to begin at 7:30 pm eastern and will be televised by FOX.
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State: In what might be the most entertaining one on one battle of the weekend, Bell faces off against Notre Dame and their fierce inside linebacker Manti Te'o. Possessing a frame that has drawn comparisons to former Sparty star T.J. Duckett, Bell has demonstrated the same remarkably quick feet and lateral agility that led to the 6-0, 254 pound former earning Atlanta's first round pick in 2002. Bell has been fantastic this season in taking over as Michigan State's unquestioned bell-cow on offense, but regardless of his success, he'll have a tough time duplicating Duckett's draft status. The NFL game has changed greatly since 2002 as many teams are now looking for a committee of running backs with specific traits to exploit. Bell deserves more than being typecast as just a power back. He rumbled for 210 yards in a dominant week one showing against Boise State and scored another two touchdowns (giving him four so far) last week against Central Michigan. The Irish, and Te'o specifically, will present Bell's stiffest test yet. This game is scheduled to begin at 8:00 pm eastern and will be televised by ABC.