Scouts give a closer look as the season winds down

Donna McWilliam / Associated Press
Texas QB Colt McCoy needs to step his game up as the season winds down, so his stock doesn't drop.

As the calendar flips to the month of November, scouts across the NFL are beginning the arduous task of cross-checking the country's top prospects.

The process, which involves area scouts leaving their respective regions to evaluate top prospects in another area, is essential to proper scouting because it allows the team to get another set of eyes on the country's best players.

With most front office comprising of four to six area scouts, a national scout, a college director, and possibly a high-ranking personnel executive responsible for evaluating college talent, a team may have as many as five to six reports on a player by draft day.

Given that more eyes on a player often leads to a better overall evaluation, you can't underestimate the importance of cross-checking top prospects during the fall.

In looking at our last Sweet Sixteen rankings, it is important to note that some of the prospects previously on the board have risen or fallen based on injuries or performance through the first three quarters of the season. While players undoubtedly go through hot and cold spells, scouts are placing a premium on consistent performance and we have done the same in listing the top seniors available in this year's draft.

Russell Okung and Ndamukong Suh have routinely dominated their opponents and they have retained their spots at the top of the charts based on their exceptional performances. On the other hand, Colt McCoy, Brandon LaFell and Greg Hardy have slid down the rankings due to spotty performances or injury issues. Although each continues to rank as one of the best at their respective positions, they no longer deserve to rank above others performing exceptionally well.

Must-see college games for NFL scouts this week
TCU's Jimmy Hughes and the Horned Frogs play a big Mountain West Conference game against Utah on Saturday.

TCU at Utah, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET

Scouts are anxiously awaiting this Mountain West matchup to catch a glimpse of the Horned Frogs' Jerry Hughes wreaking havoc off the edge. As one of the fastest rising hybrid pass-rushing prospects on draft boards, Hughes has emerged as a possible first-round pick. Another dominant performance will further boost his chances of being one of the first pass rushers taken in the draft. Additionally, scouts will pay close attention to LB Darryl Washington manning the middle of the TCU defense. Washington is the physical, hard-hitting presence that pro defensive coordinator crave in the middle, and he can continue to boost his ascending stock by playing well in the Horned Frogs' biggest game. For the Utes, all eyes will be on OT Zane Beadles. Although the mammoth blocker is projected to move inside as a pro, evaluators will assess his footwork and movement skills while he takes on Hughes and Co. off the edge.

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, Saturday at 8 p.m. ET

The Panthers entered the season with one of the top rated tight end prospects in the 2010 draft class in Nate Byham. However, scouts flocking to Pittsburgh have stumbled upon one of the most versatile players at the position in Dorin Dickerson. The talented pass catcher has played three positions (receiver, linebacker and tight end) during his time at Pittsburgh, but the versatile background has intrigued scouts looking to identify a possible fullback/tight end prospect with upside as a receiver/blocker. On the other side of the ball, scouts have pinpointed Notre Dame OT Sam Young as the one to watch. While he has struggled at times against speed rushers off the edge, Young still intrigues some evaluators looking for a rugged blocker capable of playing on the right side as a pro.

Arizona at California, Saturday at 7 p.m. ET

This Pac-10 battle features two of the top cover men west of the Mississippi in the Wildcats' Devin Ross and the Bears' Syd'Quan Thompson. Although the diminutive corners don't possess ideal size for the position, both intrigue scouts looking for corners with outstanding feet, hands and instincts. Additionally, scouts will take a long, hard look at the Cal DE Tyson Alualu to determine if the senior has the requisite grit and toughness to be an impact player on the next level. While Alualu has flashed outstanding quickness and athleticism as a penetrater, some scouts would like to see him play stouter at the point of attack. This physical contest against the Wildcats gives him an opportunity to silence his detractors.

Auburn at Georgia, Saturday at 7 p.m ET

This weekend's battle between the hedges will attract a large scouting contingent looking to check out underrated Tigers RB Ben Tate run against Georgia's defense. Tate has steadily improved over the course of the season; the bruising runner has topped the 100-yard mark in six of the Tigers' 10 games. While he lacks the speed and explosiveness that some scouts crave, his workmanlike style works in power offenses and makes him a coveted mid-round prospect. For the Bulldogs, the focus will be on the team's imposing defensive tackle tandem of Geno Atkins and Jeff Owens. Although the Bulldogs have struggled this season, Atkins and Owens have performed admirably in the middle and scouts are curious to see if the duo will close the season with a strong finish.

Miami at North Carolina, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET

Scouts are trekking down Tobacco Road to check out the Tar Heels' star-studded defense take on the Hurricanes. Although the team touts a pair of mid-round prospects along the defensive line (DT Cam Thomas and DE E.J. Wilson), scouts will also look at a host of underclassmen (DT Marvin Austin, LB Bruce Carter and LB Quan Sturdivant) potentially considering a move to the next level. In looking at the Hurricanes' lineup, scouts are sure to focus on OT Jason Fox, DE Eric Moncur and LB Daryl Sharpton. The trio has earned mixed reviews in the scouting community, but a string of consistent performances down the stretch could enhance their draft positions.
Prospect to watch
Anthony Dixon

Willie Young, DE, North Carolina State
Scouts are quietly buzzing about the emerging pass rushing specialist from North Carolina State. Young has racked up seven sacks this season and is earning comparisons to former Wolfpack great Manny Lawson. Although Young lacks the speed of his predecessor, his first-step quickness and burst routinely overwhelms blockers on the edge and results in a ton of disruptive plays off the edge. Young's penchant for freelancing outside of the scheme of the defense concerns some scouts, but his big-play potential has others willing to take a risk on his exceptional talent in the early stages of the draft.
Bucky Brooks' "Sweet 16"
Bucky Brooks' latest list of the top 16 senior NFL prospects for the 2010 draft class, in order of when they might get drafted:

1. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State: Okung is a dominating lineman with exceptional size and nimble feet. He continues to impress scouts with his superior skills as a run and pass blocker, and is undoubtedly a franchise-caliber left tackle prospect.

2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska: Scouts continue to marvel at Suh's exceptional strength, power and athleticism. He is a dominant interior player with the skills to terrorize opponents as a run stuffer or pass rusher, and his unique skill set makes him the top defensive prospect in the draft.

3. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson: The explosive speedster has lived up to his reputation by delivering a host of big plays this season.

4. Trent Williams, OT, Oklahoma: Williams made the move to left tackle this year and has shown some promise while manning the position. He excels as a run blocker and shows solid skills in pass protection.

Taylor Mays 5. Taylor Mays, FS, USC: Some scouts have rated the hard-hitting Trojan as the top defensive player in the 2010 draft class. An exceptional athlete with outstanding instincts and awareness, Mays is the proto-typical enforcer defensive coordinators covet in the middle of the field.

6. Sergio Kindle, OLB, Texas: The ultra-athletic pass rusher has one of the quickest first steps in the game, and is an explosive player with immense potential. However, his stock has taken a bit of a tumble in the eyes of some scouts due to his inconsistent motor and effort.
Complete "Sweet 16" ...



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