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TOP-FIVE LISTS FOR NFL DRAFT
TOP INSIDE LINEBACKERS
1. Patrick Willis, senior, Mississippi
2. H.B. Blades, senior, Pittsburgh
3. Justin Durant, senior, Hampton
4. Nate Harris, senior, Louisville
5. Buster Davis, senior, Florida State
TOP OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS
1. Paul Posluszny, senior, Penn State
2. Rufus Alexander, senior, Oklahoma
3. Earl Everett, senior, Florida
4. Prescott Burgess, senior, Michigan
5. Brian Smith, senior, Missouri
TOP OVERALL PROSPECTS
1. QB Brady Quinn, senior, Notre Dame
2. WR Calvin Johnson, junior, Georgia Tech
3. RB Adrian Peterson, junior, Oklahoma
4. OT Joe Thomas, senior, Wisconsin
5. WR Ted Ginn Jr., junior, Ohio State
USC's John David Booty has seemingly made a smooth transition from the bench to Matt Leinart's replacement as the Trojans' starting quarterback, presenting himself as a solid and determined leader through his first five starts.

Booty is not seen as a future franchise NFL quarterback, though. Not yet.

The junior has passed for 1,209 yards and 11 touchdowns with just three interceptions, and he has shown better mobility than expected, being sacked just five times on 182 pass attempts. However, Booty tends to throw with a bit of a side-armed motion, which has led to several batted-down passes at the line of scrimmage. Also, Booty is shorter than advertised in the Trojans' program (he's listed at 6-foot-3), and his low release point could lead to turnovers if an opposing defense applies more pressure or flushes him from the pocket.

Current teammates have stressed that Booty throws a better deep ball than Leinart. The Louisiana native has also shown the type of leadership skills that have allowed the team to overcome several close games.

Booty has gained the confidence of the third-ranked Trojans by directing them to narrow wins over Washington State and Washington the past two weeks. Another run at the national championship now seems in reach if USC can overcome a late-season schedule that includes games against Oregon, California, Notre Dame and then cross-town rival UCLA.

MORE PROSPECT NOTES

  • Penn State running back Tony Hunt has started to establish himself as potentially being the most consistent and well-rounded draft-eligible running back. He is averaging 5.3 yards per carry, while gaining 669 yards over the first six games of his senior season, including four straight 135-plus yard efforts. He has caught 10 passes out of the backfield and has 71 career receptions, proving he has the hands necessary to compete as an every-down back in the NFL. And he has the size (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) to be a useful blocker when called upon.

If the Nittany Lions upset either Michigan or Wisconsin, they will do so by riding the legs of Hunt. He has the ability to keep the Wolverines' potent offense on the sideline if Penn State, which plays host to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday, feeds him the ball 25 to 30 times. Hunt insists he can run better than the 4.55-second estimate that he was given last spring, but it is his size, power and ability to consistently gain yardage after contact that should boost him toward being a solid second-round choice.

  • Texas offensive lineman Justin Blalock is regarded as one of the top senior linemen for next year's NFL draft. Scouts might now have the chance to see him play inside at guard for a few weeks, a position which many area scouts believe will be in his future. Last Saturday against Oklahoma, Blalock moved from right tackle to right guard after starter Cedric Dockery was injured. Since top-rated tackles tend to come off the board much earlier in the draft than those graded out as guards or centers, Blalock and his future professional business partners will prefer for him to be evaluated as an offensive tackle, first and foremost.
  • Michigan State wide receiver Matt Trannon will miss this Saturday's game against Ohio State because of a sprained right ankle, which comes on the heels of him dealing with a sore hamstring. Fellow senior and defensive lineman Clifton Ryan will try to play through a calf injury that sidelined him in the second half of the Spartans' loss to Michigan, while senior linebacker David Herron is questionable for the Ohio State game after suffering a concussion against the Wolverines. Senior quarterback Drew Stanton showed a good amount of toughness and intangibles, although it did not show up in the box score, as he went the whole way against Michigan playing with bruised ribs and an assortment of other bumps.
  • California outside linebacker Mickey Pimentel, a former junior college All-American, has started to create quite a buzz for West Coast area scouts thanks to a number of big-play outings against top-rated opponents. No performance was more eye-opening than his one-man show against Arizona State where the senior broke through untouched, leaped up to block a pass attempt by ASU quarterback Rudy Carpenter, tipped it to himself and then returned it the final 20 yards for a touchdown.

Pimentel is just over 6-1 and 235 pounds, but he has been timed in the 4.55-second range in the 40 while at the JC level. That afforded him more of a chance to showcase his speed as a pass rusher. He had 10½ sacks his sophomore year and had 3½ as a reserve with the Bears last season. His superior natural athleticism showed up in several games last year, including Cal's Las Vegas Bowl win over BYU, but he was still overlooked by Pac-10 officials that felt the Bears would use younger players to flank potential All-Pac-10 senior middle linebacker Desmond Bishop.

The Bears' defense features several prime-time prospects, starting with cornerback Daymeion Hughes, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and the previously mentioned Bishop. But Pimentel's speed and big-play skills as a pass rusher combined with his ability to create turnovers have area scouts talking him up as a "fast riser" on the West Coast.

  • Miami running back Tyrone Moss has missed the past few weeks with a variety of issues. His surgically repaired left knee has had some swelling and been giving him problems, and a migraine headache also forced the senior to sit against Houston.

The Hurricanes' coaching staff maintains there is no new injury to report. But both Moss and the team's doctors want to be sure his knee is 100-percent stable and fully functional before he returns to the field to avoid risking further damage to his leg and prospects for a professional career.

No timetable has been given for Moss' return, but in the interim, freshman sensation Javarris James, the cousin of NFL standout running back Edgerrin James, has taken over as the team's featured back. He has gained 111 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown, in last Saturday night's win over North Carolina.

  • Redshirt freshman running back P.J. Hill of Wisconsin has been a one-man show, averaging 141 yards per game and scoring nine touchdowns. He is on pace to set a record for rushing yards by a freshman, a mark once held by former Badgers standout Ron Dayne and then broken by Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson in 2004.

At 5-11 and 235 pounds, Hill has ideal size to be the type of workhorse back that fans of the Badgers have grown accustomed. He has also shown another gear of speed in the open field. His success can be credited to the continued fine play of senior offensive tackle Joe Thomas, who played an inspired and emotional game in Wisconsin's win over Northwestern after suffering the loss of childhood friend Luke Homan. Homan drowned in an accident the previous weekend.

  • Kansas State defensive tackle Quintin Echols became a real pro prospect during the second half of last season, especially after games against Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Colorado. His hard work off the field, which included paying closer attention to his diet and staying up late watching game film, led to him becoming more of a vocal leader on the field.

The senior has ideal size for a nose tackle (6-foot, 320 pounds) and has recorded 18 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in six games. He has shown good quickness off the ball, has been timed around five seconds in the 40-yard dash. He can help collapse the pocket of opposing offenses when he fires off the ball low and keeps his pads underneath him. That tends to keep blockers off balance and gives them a small target thanks to his compact/stout frame.

  • Arkansas State defensive end Jonathan Najm has returned to action after missing the last half of his junior year with a torn ACL in his left knee and sitting out the first few weeks of his senior campaign due to team rule violations regarding an off-campus incident.

Najm, a former JC standout who had 10 sacks as a sophomore at Laney College in Oakland, Calif., showed promise as a pass rusher last season, recording five tackles for loss and 3½ sacks in his first eight games. He recorded an interception and several pressures in last week's win over Louisiana-Monroe, but it's his reported 4.5 time in the 40 that has area scouts heading to Jonesboro, Ark.

At just about 6-2 and 250 pounds, Najm is obviously undersized compared to most full-time NFL defensive linemen. But his quickness off the ball and pass-rush skills are giving him the chance to impress NFL teams as a possible situational pass rusher or outside linebacker in a 3-4 based scheme.

  • Junior quarterback Brian Brohm of Louisville is trying to convince the coaching staff that he can return several weeks earlier than expected from a right thumb injury he suffered in the Cardinals' win over Miami in mid-September. Team doctors initially expected him to be out until the end of this month. But Brohm would like to get some snaps this weekend against Cincinnati and then return to the starting lineup against Syracuse so he can prepare and get his timing back before Louisville's Nov. 2 showdown against West Virginia.

SMALL SCHOOL WONDERS

  • Central Connecticut State running back Justise Hairston set a school record by rushing for 332 yards on just 23 carries in a 62-21 win over St. Francis (Pa.) last weekend. The 6-foot, 210-pound Rutgers transfer scored five touchdowns, including a 62-yard romp right up the middle on his first carry. He has taken the Northeast Conference by storm by rushing for 991 yards and 12 touchdowns in just six games.

The senior sat out last season after showing good hands earlier in his career at Rutgers, where he averaged over four yards per carry as a freshman. Hairston has been posting big-time results against some average foes to date. But he will have a good range of teams to face down the stretch as Robert Morris and Monmouth boast solid defensive units. Both Wagner and Stony Brook have also played well at times this season.

  • Maine defensive back Daren Stone returned a blocked punt 21 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown in a 28-7 victory over Towson last Saturday. The senior has 19 tackles, 3½ tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble in just four games. Stone has played both strong safety and cornerback during his college career, showing very good ball instincts, and he has also been a highly effective pass rusher. At just under 6-3 and 221 pounds, he has ideal NFL size with much better range and straight-line speed (4.50 to 4.55 seconds in the 40) than most realize.
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