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Hungry like the Wolfe

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2007 DRAFT NEEDS

If the NFL draft were held today, here is who the league's worst teams would be eyeing:

1. Tennessee Titans (0-4) – They have their franchise quarterback but lack a true No. 1 running back (unless LenDale White proves otherwise later this season). Adding a playmaker like Georgia Tech wideout Calvin Johnson might be overshadowed by the chance to trade down with a team that would want a shot at Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn.

2. Detroit Lions (0-4) – The Lions were hoping for a better start and still might rebound to win five to six games and drop from this spot, but for now they likely would improve themselves at either offensive tackle or defensive end with a pick this high.

3. Oakland Raiders (0-3) – Oakland would be the obvious choice to deal up for Quinn if Andrew Walter doesn't show long-range potential. The offensive line is a huge issue, but it likely will be resolved via free agency. So if the Raiders don't trade up for a quarterback, they could slide down in hopes of adding a pass-catching tight end and a premier defensive lineman with early choices.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) – The Bucs had high hopes for this season, but now they have 13 games to review their long-term solution at quarterback or enter the Quinn derby. They also have needs at left tackle and cornerback.

5. Houston Texans (1-3) – The Texans would hate to get on the clock with a running back like Adrian Peterson on the board because their fans would be irate to see them take a running back in the wake of the Reggie Bush vs. Mario Williams controversy. The good news is that they have four more winnable games on the schedule and might settle for finding another cog for their defensive unit.

At roughly 5-foot-7 and 180 pounds, Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe has been compared to San Diego Chargers scatback Darren Sproles.

The senior would like to make believers out of the scouts who don't think he has the size and strength to be a workhorse in the NFL.

Wolfe leads the nation with 1,181 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first five contests, including a very impressive outing against top-ranked Ohio State in which he gained 287 yards of total offense, 172 on the ground. Last weekend, Wolfe gained a career-high 353 yards on 31 carries against Ball State, but the Mid-American Conference standout's most impressive stat might be his carries-per-game average (25).

Outside of a matchup against Iowa in late October, Wolfe has a number of easy games left on Northern Illinois' schedule. If he comes close to 2,200-plus yards and more than 20 total touchdowns, Wolfe could put himself in position to earn an invite to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

Heisman hopes aside, Wolfe must prove his game can translate to the NFL before scouts stop comparing him to Sproles and start putting his name next to guys like Warrick Dunn, Brian Westbrook and Maurice Jones-Drew. Wolfe's receiving skills have shown improvement, but his blocking assignments and return skills during his postseason appearances will determine his final draft grade.

• After being overshadowed by former teammates and 2006 NFL draftees Rob Ninkovich (now with the New Orleans Saints) and Ray Edwards (Minnesota Vikings), Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer has become one of the nation's premier pass rushers this season.

The senior put on a clinic from his left end spot in last Saturday's loss to Notre Dame, recording 15 tackles, 4½ tackles for loss and 1½ sacks. Two weeks ago, he earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and one forced fumble in the Boilermakers' win over Minnesota.

So far in five games, Spencer has 43 tackles, 10½ tackles for loss, 5½ sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick. At 6-3 and 262 pounds, he has been timed in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash, and he also is – pound for pound – one of the strongest players in the Big Ten, bench-pressing nearly 500 pounds.

His high level of effort and production combined with his raw physical numbers could produce a high second-round to low first-round grade by season's end.

• Purdue sophomore Selwyn Lymon set an all-time Notre Dame opponent record with 238 receiving yards (along with eight catches and two touchdowns) last Saturday in what could be the coming-out party for the next premier Big Ten wide receiver.

The 6-4, 210-pound speedster (4.4-second range in the 40) possesses the type of ball skills, leaping ability and vertical speed to become a future first-round prospect. A quarterback and wide receiver in high school, Lymon can also be used to run a few gadget plays.

Lymon, named the top prep prospect in Indiana by several outlets two years ago, paid his own way to school last year and sat out the season to concentrate on his grades. He will be three years removed from his high school graduation in 2007, and he certainly will draw a flood of area scouts at his games next season.

• Remember where you read the name first as this senior is sure to become an Internet sensation with countless outlets ranking him on their draft boards: Houston tight end Rodney Hannah, a former basketball recruit who is starting to develop a bit of a cult following with the Cougar faithful.

Hannah is the team's tallest player at roughly 6-8 and has exhibited tremendous leaping ability thanks to a 38-inch vertical, which is outstanding considering his size (245 pounds) and long arms. So far this season, he has caught five passes for 66 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown against Grambling State.

Hannah was recruited to several high-quality Division I-A basketball programs, but he went the junior-college route before landing at Houston. A reserve forward for the Cougars most of last season, Hannah had last played football in high school in California. He was a very successful wide receiver in his senior year, finishing in the state's top 10 in receiving yards.

Along with the prototype body for the NFL, Hannah has plenty of room to develop and increase his mass/size. On the field, he still needs to work on his routes and technique and learn how to use his body to become a better blocker, but the 22-year-old's pure physical talents are eye-opening for such a young, raw prospect.

• Rutgers safety Courtney Greene is making his own statement toward gaining national respect for a defensive secondary that is overshadowed by the Scarlet Knights' talented backfield duo of Ray Rice and Brian Leonard.

Greene won the starting strong safety spot as a freshman, leading the team in tackles and recording double-digit tackles in eight of his first 12 career starts. This season, the sophomore has continued to be the lightning rod on one of the nation's most underrated defenses, recording 30 tackles, three interceptions, one sack and one pass breakup.

A two-way prep star who also performed well in track and field, Greene possesses the type of size (6-1, 210) and speed to give him the type of early college resume to become a top-rated NFL safety prospect.

• Arizona State defensive end Loren Howard is likely to miss the rest of the year due to a quad injury that has kept him off the field all season, and school officials believe the senior will petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility because he has missed time over several seasons due to an assortment of injuries.

Howard has excellent size (6-4, 270), but he has not been able to stay healthy during a college career that began at Northwestern. Howard headed closer to home two years ago while recovering from a left ankle injury, but he got hurt again over the summer. His quad has not responded to treatment or the rehabilitation process drawn out by the ASU team doctors.

If Howard is unsuccessful in gaining an extra season of eligibility, he'll have the chance to opt into the NFL draft. But obviously his health status and lack of game film from the past two years will hurt his value.

• Florida wide receiver Dallas Baker, who has taken a lot of criticism from other outlets for being one of the most overrated receiver prospects, continues to prove his doubters wrong, making his fifth touchdown catch of the year in the Gators' win over Alabama last Saturday.

The senior has 27 catches for 448 yards (16.6-yard average), but his lack of straight-line speed (4.65-4.70 in the 40) has given evaluators the chance to pass him over. However, Baker's large frame (6-3, 210) and leaping ability allowed him to beat fellow senior prospect, Alabama cornerback Ramzee Robinson (5-10, 195). I believe with improved technique and training that Baker will drop his 40-time down to the 4.6 range, which will put him in position to be taken in the middle rounds of next year's draft.

• Florida safety Reggie Nelson has made a huge impact on the Gators' defense. The junior is the team's hardest hitter and best blitzer, and he also has the best ball skills in the secondary.

Against Alabama, Nelson picked off his fourth pass of the season, returning the interception 70 yards for a touchdown. What NFL scouts like most is the fact that he has the ball skills of a free safety and the run stopping/tackling ability of a strong safety. That gives him the chance to be seen as a first-day choice after next season.

• Kansas State running back Thomas Clayton, who originally was recruited by Florida State, has started to gain some attention from area scouts for his performance on the field and combination of ideal size/speed for the next level.

The senior is averaging close to five yards per carry, and against an undefeated Louisville team he ran for 118 yards on 15 carries and scored on a 69-yard touchdown run. He also caught five passes for 35 yards to show he could be more of a complete back than originally thought. At roughly 5-11 and 220 pounds, Clayton has been timed in the 4.4 range, and he could become a postseason riser with continued production against ranked teams like Nebraska, Missouri and Texas.

• Virginia Tech wide receiver David Clowney, who missed the Hokies' previous game against Cincinnati, returned earlier than expected against Georgia Tech after having an emergency appendectomy Sept. 21. The senior provided some much-needed help on special teams but managed just five catches for 58 yards. For the season, the speedy vertical threat has 18 catches for 240 yards but no touchdowns, with the majority of his damage (four catches for 120 yards) coming against a lowly Duke defensive unit.

Clowney was expected to become a first- or second-round type prospect this season. Some observers even predicted he would eclipse the draft-day status of former Virginia Tech wide receiver Andre Davis (second-round pick in 2002), but he has not grabbed scouts' attention as a go-to guy for the NFL.

TOP-FIVE LISTS
POTENTIAL TOP PROSPECTS
1. QB Brady Quinn, senior, Notre Dame
2. WR Calvin Johnson, junior, Ga. Tech
3. RB Adrian Peterson, junior, Oklahoma
4. DE Quentin Moses, senior, Georgia
5. CB Marcus McCauley, senior, Fresno St.

TOP RUNNING BACKS
1. Kenny Irons, senior, Auburn
2. Tony Hunt, senior, Penn State
3. Michael Bush, senior, Louisville
4. DeShawn Wynn, senior, Florida
5. Garrett Wolfe, senior, Northern Illinois
• Arizona State offensive tackle Andrew Carnahan, who was receiving the type of early evaluation that could have led to a mid-to-late round grade as a right tackle prospect, will miss the rest of the season and likely any postseason opportunity after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee. The senior's injury will allow an NFL team with ideal offensive line depth to secure his services late in the draft or as a priority free agent with an eye toward the 2008 season.

• USC wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett is likely to miss another week or two after spraining the AC joint in his left shoulder in the Trojans' win over Arizona. The junior has yet to consistently show the type of big-play ability that had some mentioning him as a possible top-10 selection should he declare early.

In three games, Jarrett has averaged just 10.4 yards per catch on 20 receptions and scored three touchdowns. He has been slow to get off the line and is not showing the type of separation speed to be placed in that elite class of receivers that NFL offensive coordinators judge as game-breakers.

Jarrett's long arms and height (6-5) have given him a clear advantage over shorter defensive backs in the Pac-10, but the NFL game would neutralize some of that. So Jarrett needs to polish up his routes, blocking and short-area quickness.

• Northern Illinois tight end Jake Nordin suffered a season-ending broken left leg in Saturday's win over Ball State. The 6-4, 253-pound senior had been getting some attention as a solid blocker in the Huskies' run-oriented scheme, but he also showed fairly steady hands for a player of his size and strength. If he can get healthy by the spring, Nordin has a good chance to earn a free-agent opportunity next summer as NFL teams always are in the market for in-line blockers who have some pass-catching ability.

• Penn State offensive tackle Levi Brown, who missed last week's game due to a sprained left knee, will be out again this week against Minnesota. The team has not said when Brown will return to the field or if he will wear a brace to protect his knee against further injury. Season-ending surgery would affect the senior's current draft status, which figures to be as high as a mid-to-late first-round choice.

SMALL SCHOOL WONDERS

• Appalachian State offensive guard Kerry Brown has caught the eye of several area evaluators the past two years, thanks to his impressive combination of size (6-6, 303), strength (near 500-pound bench press) and athleticism (4.9 in the 40). The junior was a critical part of an offensive line that helped lead the Mountaineers to the Division I-AA national championship a year ago and a near upset of North Carolina State earlier this season, a game in which he collected nine knockdowns.

Brown's work ethic and dedication to preparing himself for a chance to play in the NFL cannot be questioned as he seems to have good focus and attention to detail. He needs to learn how to use his strength to become more of a finisher and maybe even develop a little more of a nasty streak on the field. At times, Brown comes off the ball high and will lose a defender by letting him slip off first contact, but with better technique and use of his hands, he could become a Kendall Simmons type of prospect.

• Hampton linebacker Justin Durant continues to draw praise from area scouts who love his instincts, intensity and ability to make plays against both the run and pass. The senior leads the team with 48 tackles, 6½ tackles for loss, four pass breakups and one fumble recovery after a junior campaign that featured a team-leading 124 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, five sacks and one interception.

Durant is stationed at middle linebacker for the Pirates, but he is a tad undersized (6-1, 235). Still, he fights through blockers and will punish opposing running backs when he gets into position to make the tackle. He has shown improved coverage skills, footwork and lateral quickness, but he may need to bulk up a little to handle being an every-down linebacker in the NFL.

Older brother Darian was a quarterback at North Carolina, but the younger Durant is making a push towards earning a Day 1 draft grade, especially if he can practice well in the postseason and run better than 4.65 in his workouts.

• Alabama State defensive back Michael Coe has made an instant impact after transferring from Arkansas for his final college campaign. The senior has experience playing both cornerback and return man in the SEC, giving the Hornets a big-play defender in their secondary.

Having started at both cornerback and safety though Alabama State's first five games, Coe has 20 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss, one sack and eight pass breakups while also being the team's primary punt returner. One reason for his immediate success in the SWAC might be the fact that his father, Charles, is the team's head coach, but it should also be pointed out that his best game of the season came in the opener against Division I-A foe Troy, which tested Florida State the following week.

Coe has good size (6-foot, 190) and is said to possess 4.45-range speed, so his versatility and special teams skills could enable him to catch the eyes of scouts in the postseason.