TCU made a statement last week, smoking Utah in a game billed as one of the biggest in Mountain West Conference history.
The Horned Frogs, like Boise State, are focused on landing a spot in the BCS championship game. It's not easy to come out of a conference that doesn't automatically qualify for games in the Bowl Championship Series, but TCU is currently well positioned to grab one of the top two spots should Auburn or Oregon suffer a loss before season's end.
Boise State has been on this quest before, as has Utah, which also learned the hard way that unbeaten out of the Mountain West doesn't carry the same weight as a perfect record in a BCS conference.
|Marcus Cannon (61) has been an O-line anchor and may become a first-round pick. (Getty Images)|
As TCU and Boise State make cases to play with the big boys in January, we've identified the top NFL prospects from both programs, those with a legitimate chance to prove they belong with the big boys in the near future.
1. Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU
Skinny: A first-team All-Mountain West selection as a junior, Cannon primarily played right tackle in his first two years as a starter (2008 and 2009). This season, the 6-foot-5, 358-pound Cannon made the move to the left side -- after not allowing a sack on the right side last year -- and has impressed scouts with his agility, footwork and technique. Cannon's massive frame and strength give teams the option to play him at guard in the NFL, but the way he has performed at left tackle this season speaks volumes of his worth, and it could ultimately make him a first-round pick in the 2011 draft.
Bottom line: Cannon's move to left tackle and performance there have boosted his draft stock. Very recently he was considered a third-round prospect, due to being typecast as a right tackle who had a big frame and unknown athleticism. To the delight of scouts he's far more advanced athletically than originally thought and in turn could be selected near the end of the first round.
2. *Nate Potter, OG/OT, Boise State
Skinny: Touted as the Broncos' top NFL prospect by many scouts entering the 2010 season, the decision by the Boise State coaching staff to move their prized junior lineman from left tackle to left guard during the spring was surprising. But the decision was quickly overturned as injuries along the line at the start of the season forced Potter back to tackle. Playing in a weak conference that has very few NFL-ready pass-rushing threats, the undersized Potter is able to dominate the competition with his athleticism, long arms and quick feet while lacking desirable mass. However, what Potter lacks in strength he's able to overcome with his intelligence and technique, qualities that will stand out during the draft process.
Bottom line: Potter has the versatility many scouts covet, and if he declares for the 2011 draft, it's possible he will land in the second round. But while there are positives -- his footwork and ability to mirror defenders in pass protection -- Potter lacks bulk and the overall strength needed to dominate as a run blocker.
3. Titus Young, WR, Boise State
Skinny: Boise State's vertical threat, Young, who had a sensational junior year with 79 catches for 1,041 yards and 10 touchdowns, has continued to evolve his game this year with his big-play ability downfield and his versatility. His grasp of the offense and the explosive nature he showcases in space have impressed scouts. But scouts are quietly concerned about players like Young, who is 5-11 and 170 pounds, due to mounting concerns over concussions in the NFL. There's no question Young will receive second- or third-round attention, but it's possible teams will reevaluate how they spend their high-round picks on undersized playmakers.
Bottom line: Young is viewed as a multidimensional threat -- he not only can hurt opponents with his dynamic ability as a receiver, but he can also be used in the run game and as a return specialist. He's an undersized performer and using him in many facets of the game could make him ineffective or result in injury at the next level. He's likely to test well during the offseason and could be selected in the second round.
4. *Tank Carder, ILB TCU
Skinny: In his first year as a starter, Carder quickly became one of the Horned Frogs' leaders on defense in '09 and finished the year second on the team in tackles with 89. Despite being undersized at 6-2, 232, Carder has the instincts, quickness and tackling technique to develop into a polished middle linebacker at the next level. The biggest concern scouts have about him is his durability. He underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason but has recovered well and has performed brilliantly for TCU through 10 games this season: 50 tackles, six for a loss, 2½ sacks and one interception.
Bottom line: There's a chance Carder will capitalize on his two-year success as a starter and decide to declare for the '11 draft. As one of the nation's premier underclassmen at inside linebacker, Carder may look at the senior class, which isn't very deep, and determine it's best for him to take advantage of the potential mid-round grade he receives.
5. Austin Pettis, WR, Boise State
Skinny: Entering the season, Pettis was hyped as one of the top senior wide receivers in the country after putting together a breakout '09 campaign, when he caught 63 passes for 855 yards and 14 touchdowns. While he has played well at times this year, Pettis has been overshadowed by teammate Young and hasn't emerged the way evaluators thought he would. With that said, scouts understand his role in the Broncos' offense and appreciate his skill, size and versatility. Pettis is the type of player who will be able to increase his value more during the offseason than he will in season, because of the attributes he possesses.
Bottom line: At 6-3, 201 pounds, Pettis has a distinct edge against most corners but doesn't generate much separation and lacks elite straight-line speed. His soft hands and ability to haul in tough receptions have caught the attention of scouts over the past two seasons. He will receive third- and fourth-round consideration, and could climb draft boards if he posts a 40 time that is better than expected.
6. Andy Dalton, QB, TCU
Skinny: The reigning Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Dalton is on target for a repeat with the sensational season he and the Horned Frogs are putting together. A four-year starter with an impressive résumé, Dalton continues to raise his stock with his arm strength, decision-making and leadership qualities. Scouts like the intangibles Dalton brings to the field, but his measurables (6-2, 215), overall speed and the time it might take for him to adjust to a pro-style offense are concerns. While speed is an issue, the most underrated part about Dalton's game is his lateral agility and ability to make accurate throws on the move.
Bottom line: In a weak senior quarterback class, Dalton could be drafted much higher than originally thought. The experience he has and the confidence with which he plays will excite NFL personnel as they evaluate him this offseason. But as much as he has going for him, his stature and physical limitations could affect how high teams are willing to draft him. Expect Dalton to come off the board in the fourth round.
7. Wayne Daniels, DE/OLB, TCU
Skinny: Overshadowed by '10 first-round pick Jerry Hughes the past two seasons, Daniels managed to get on the scouting radar as a junior last season starting opposite Hughes by recording 5½ sacks and nine tackles for loss. Even though scouts were intrigued by the 6-2, 250-pound tweener, there were evaluators who wondered how Daniels would fare with Hughes no longer demanding attention from blockers. Daniels has enjoyed a breakout year by totaling 27 tackles, 10 for a loss and 6½ sacks.
Bottom line: The tweener label will be attached to Daniels this offseason. Similar to Hughes physically, Daniels lacks the explosion, pass-rushing prowess and quickness Hughes has. The notion Daniels might translate best to outside linebacker is inconclusive, due to his average speed and questionable coverage skills. But he's still developing and his workouts at the combine will likely determine where he's selected in the draft.
8. Tejay Johnson, FS, TCU
Skinny: The emotional leader on and off the field for TCU, Johnson has been an instrumental part in the Horned Frogs' dominance and top-ranked defense this season. He finished the '09 season tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, and is currently tied for the team lead with two. At 6-feet and 208 pounds, Johnson is a solid all-around safety who brings intensity and intelligence to the field. Scouts are impressed by his discipline and ability to defend the run. Areas of concern are his lateral movement and coverage skills.
Bottom line: This year's safety class in comparison to last year's lacks star power, but overall there are solid players available and Johnson might prove to be one of the elite. When teams draft a free safety they're looking for three things: instincts, ball and coverage skills and leadership qualities. Johnson tests well in all three categories, but how he runs this offseason will decide if he's a third-round pick or a fourth- or fifth-round selection.
9. *Billy Winn, DT, Boise State
Skinny: Speaking of breakout seasons, Winn played a vital role on the Broncos' defensive line in 2009, collecting 44 tackles, 12½ for loss and six sacks. For his efforts he was a second-team All-WAC selection and immediately became a player of interest in scouting circles. An athletic interior presence, Winn has been even better this year. He has relied on his quick first step, improved technique and ability to get after the quarterback. Scouts who have observed Winn closely believe he projects best as a 3-4 defensive end given his size and athleticism and he could develop into a solid pass rusher at the next level.
Bottom line: At 6-4, 288 pounds, Winn brings size and athleticism that translate well to the 3-4, and with his development on a fast track, many scouts are excited about his upside. But it's unclear if Winn will forgo his senior year and declare for the draft. As good as he has been this year, he still has room to grow physically and improve at his position. If he were to enter the 2011 draft, teams might consider using a fourth-round selection based on his potential.
10. Jeremy Kerley, WR, TCU
Skinny: The Mountain West Conference's top return specialist, Kerley also presents an emerging offensive skill set and plenty of versatility. Developing into Dalton's go-to-guy in the passing game this season, the 5-10, 190-pound Kerley currently leads the team in receptions (42) and touchdowns (7) and is second on the team in receiving yards (432). Speaking of his versatility, Kerley is the main option out of TCU's Wild Frog formation. While behind center, he has rushed for two touchdowns and thrown for another. Scouts are intrigued.
Bottom line: Kerley's return skills and developing offensive game make him an attractive mid-round option for teams in need of a boost on special teams and depth at receiver. He's not a finished product as an offensive player and has to work on his route-running, but his compact frame and overall skill set are dynamic, and he could end up being a steal.
11. Jeron Johnson, SS, Boise State
Skinny: The Broncos' leading tackler the past two seasons, Johnson is on his way to earning that distinction once again in '10. He is known for hard hits and being in the right place at the right time to make key plays, but Johnson's size (5-10, 195) remains an issue with scouts. He has been a durable performer throughout his career (missed four games with an injury as a freshman), but how scouts expect he will hold up taking on blocks and defending the run at the next level will determine where he's selected next April.
Bottom line: While Johnson's size will be debated during the draft process, his athleticism, speed and overall performance at workouts will be well reviewed. The one aspect of his game that's underrated is his speed and ability to cover ground. He's a player that looks for the knockout blow, but in a disciplined scheme he could develop into a playmaker. Expect Johnson to be a fourth- or fifth-round selection.
12. Ryan Winterswyk, DE, Boise State
Skinny: A two-time All-WAC first-team selection, Winterswyk might not be the most athletic defender in the nation, but his blue-collar approach and nonstop motor make him one of the toughest matchups for the opposition. A player that scouts call a "dirtball" for the maximum effort he gives has received much more attention from opponents this season after he recorded nine sacks in '09. The added attention has led to an underwhelming '10 season when scouts already had concerns about his bulk and burst. The draft process will be important for Winterswyk.
Bottom line: Teams that take an interest in Winterswyk during the offseason will be impressed by his attitude, work ethic and most of his game film. But if you're to judge him strictly on the numbers he produces during an individual workout, it's probable he will receive an unfavorable grade. Overall, Winterswyk brings a lot of intangibles to the table. He could go as high as the fourth round -- or not be drafted at all.
13. *Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Skinny: There's no denying the production and the record Moore has amassed since taking over as Boise State's field general in 2008. To date Moore has completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 9,394 yards, 85 touchdowns and just 17 interceptions while guiding the Broncos to an amazing 33-1 record. The lone loss Moore suffered was the 2008 Poinsettia Bowl, where Boise State lost to TCU 17-16. Moore offers the perfect mentality and intelligence to lead the Broncos' spread offense. But, when it comes to translating his game to the next level, his size (6-0, 184) and lack of arm strength will undoubtedly earn him a label as a system quarterback.
Bottom line: What may help Moore's cause to be drafted -- if he decides to declare for the draft, which is doubtful -- is his mindset and decision-making in crucial situations. He has a great understanding of the game, and if he's able to express that knowledge during interviews with NFL teams, it might be enough for a team to overlook his physical limitations to use a late-round pick to select him.
Other prospects to watch:
14. Cory Grant, DT, TCU
15. Jake Kirkpatrick, C, TCU
16. Jason Teague, CB, TCU
17. Brandyn Thompson, CB, Boise State