Thursday's Big East showdown between third-ranked West Virginia and fifth-ranked Louisville will showcase some of the conference's – if not the nation's – most impressive skill-position prospects, including quarterbacks Brian Brohm and Pat White, running backs Steve Slaton, Kolby Smith and George Stripling and a standout foursome of receivers: Mario Urrutia, Harry Douglas, Brandon Myles and Darius Reynaud.
However, the matchup that fans and scouts alike should concentrate on is in the trenches. The Mountaineers have allowed just four sacks, keeping their signal caller upright while also opening holes for an offense that pounds away for four quarters.
Senior center Daniel Mozes receives most of the attention, although game tapes reveal that West Virginia's "no-name" front line and impressive junior fullback, Owen Schmitt, are responsible for the team's successful offensive attack. It should be noted that the Mountaineers have run the ball nearly three times more than they have passed it. So if the Cardinals' front seven can contain the Mountaineers' breakaway speed and put themselves in position to lead early in the game, it could be difficult for West Virginia to become a pass-oriented team because of Louisville's overall speed and blitz packages.
The glamour guys up front are senior defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and senior linebackers Nate Harris and Abe Brown. The Cardinals coaching staff feels their secondary can match up well with the Mountaineers' passing attack, so look for a lot of one-on-one coverage which would allow a safety to spy on the QB and protect against the Slaton's long runs.
MORE PROSPECT NOTES
- South Dakota tight end Desmond Allison, who began his collegiate career as a highly recruited basketball player at powerhouse Kentucky, has started to get noticed by the handful of area scouts passing through Vermillion, S.D.
Nearly six years ago, Allison helped spark a Wildcats basketball team that also featured players like Jamaal Magloire and Tayshaun Prince (both are now in the NBA). But Allison fell out of sight, leaving the Wildcats after he was arrested for a DUI. He would get arrested three times in less than a year.
A former high school coach approached him just over two years ago about getting his life back in order. Since then, Allison has been both a model student and citizen, hoping to regain the status that once had him being called the best local Tampa prospect in recent history.
The nearly 6-foot-5, 248-pound Tampa native is averaging over 16 yards per catch and has scored four times on just 18 receptions this season. However, what has also caught the eye of evaluators is that this is not your average finesse or converted two-sport athlete who is now playing football as a backup plan or second option. That is noticeable in his improved blocking and practice habits.
Allison has a solid body type with room to grow once he steps up in terms of competition and daily routine, but thanks to his days spent running the basketball courts of the SEC, he does know a thing or two about top-level competition. The senior will turn 27 years old by the time the NFL draft rolls around.
According to a member of the South Dakota coaching staff, Allison should run in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash. That kind of speed gives scouts some insight into how he has produced 11 touchdowns on just 34 career receptions.
- Western Michigan senior outside linebacker Ameer Ismail has recorded an eye-opening nine sacks over the past two weeks. He also has added 23 tackles and one interception, which he returned for a touchdown. Ismail has become a dominant force in the MAC, leading the Broncos with 58 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 14 sacks, following a junior year that featured 20 tackles for loss, eight sacks and three fumble recoveries.
The ultra-active, 6-foot-2, 228-pound pass-rushing demon is one of the top-playmakers in a conference that is showing it has greater depth both in teams and prospects compared to previous years. A converted running back that set several prep track records, Ismail was estimated in the 4.6 range last spring in the 40-yard dash, but he is known as a workout warrior around campus and could improve that time.
His ability to pressure the quarterback, combined with his better-than-advertised athleticism, should earn him mid-to-late round consideration. He could find a role in the NFL similar to that of Patrick Chukwurah, who has been used as a hybrid pass rusher with both the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos.
- UAB senior offensive tackle Julius Wilson has taken a huge step forward and positioned himself as a possible starter at the next level as opposed to a backup with the potential to be shifted inside.
Wilson's performance against highly-rated Georgia senior defensive end Quentin Moses has made area scouts believe that he could provide a stable presence at right tackle with increased time in the weight room and continued growth towards 320 pounds.
Wilson has average strength for his size and position – roughly 20 bench press reps at 225 pounds – but has shown a good combination of footwork and balance, plus the ability to block downfield. Impressive senior-season game film and inconsistent play from several other senior prospects – including Ryan Harris (Notre Dame), Arron Sears (Tennessee) and Doug Free (Northern Illinois) – could get Wilson graded toward the latter part of day one. Most pegged him as a fifth- to seventh-round prospect prior to this season.
- Washington State senior wide receiver Jason Hill had his best performance in recent weeks, grabbing five receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown against UCLA. His production has been down in recent weeks, and area scouts have started to sour on him as a go-to guy at the next level, putting him more in the No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver category, which would cause his grade to slide back towards the third round. He has been used primarily as a vertical threat, but in spite of his high career yards-per-catch average (18.0), he is not seen has having the breakaway speed required to be a premier deep threat in the NFL.
- Boston College junior offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, just under 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, has been the team's starting right tackle since he was a freshman and is beginning to make an impact among area scouts who are watching senior linemates James Marten and Josh Beekman. Cherilus is much stronger at the point of attack than Marten, who plays left tackle but is seen as an NFL interior lineman.
Beekman is a gritty technician who has short arms and lacks quickness, but he will battle his opponent for all four quarters. A native of Haiti, he played three sports in high school, but what makes his upside so interesting is that besides having an ideal combination of size, athleticism and smarts, he also is at the mid-point of the learning curve.
Cherilus tends to rely on his natural ability rather than ideal technique, but at 22, he has what many offensive line coaches consider a perfect recipe for success: wing span, footwork and work ethic. Cherilus is expected to request his draft grade from the NFL Advisory Committee at season's end. If he does, he'd likely receive a second-round grade.
- Miami senior wide receiver Ryan Moore, who had hoped to return from his suspension last week against Georgia Tech, may be held out until he is formally charged for his role in an August incident in which two women claim he threatened them, pushed one to the ground and caused damage to the vehicle they were in.
Moore was initially charged with a pair of misdemeanors – simple battery and criminal mischief – but prosecutors are expected to raise the latter charge to a felony. Moore's attorney is expected to ask that as a first-time offender, Moore be put into a program that would allow him to avoid jail time, pay for the vehicle's damage and try to get his life back in order.
Moore's college career has been similar to that of former West Virginia wide receiver Chris Henry – talented on the field but troubled off it. The concerns around Moore's character will be held against him until teams have the chance to interview him, but my opinion is that once he is taken out of the Miami "fishbowl," he can get his life straight and could have a productive NFL career.
- Ohio State senior defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, who leads the team with seven sacks, could miss this week's game against Illinois as he continues his recovery from a concussion he suffered two weeks ago against Indiana. According to a member of the team's staff, he also received an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
There is some positive injury news for the Buckeyes. Senior defensive tackle David Patterson played about 35 downs against Minnesota two weeks after having arthroscopic surgery to repair a sprained right MCL. Patterson suffered the injury when his foot got caught in the turf against Bowling Green, but having shown no after-effects from the injury in last week's win, he expects to see full-time action against Illinois.
- Baylor senior quarterback Shawn Bell will be out several months after tearing his right ACL in Saturday's loss to Texas A&M. Although undersized, Bell had shown good mobility, accuracy and impressive leadership skills in bringing the Bears back to respectability. If he is ready by the team's pro day, there is a good chance he could earn a priority free agent grade thanks to his productive final year in the Big 12.
- Michigan State junior tight end Kellen Davis is facing misdemeanor aggravated assault charges stemming from an off-campus incident earlier this month that involved Davis and a handful of other teammates, several of whom were suspended indefinitely. If the charges are dropped, there is a chance Davis could be reinstated next semester, but he is unlikely to return this season.
The 6-5, 258-pound Davis had been a model citizen before this incident, which authorities said involved alcohol and an argument with females, which led to a fight. Davis has expressed a desire to return to the team, but others have said that he could look to the NFL if the athletic department fails to re-instate him before January.
- Former Tennessee wide receiver/quarterback James Banks, who spent part of last season attending junior college with an eye on transferring to Carson-Newman, is training at home in Indianapolis while trying to decide on his next move after academic issues cost him the chance to restart his career at the Division II powerhouse.
At 6-3, 220 pounds, Banks combined tremendous natural ability and a rifle arm coming out of high school, but was switched to wide receiver at Tennessee before being released from the program after failing a drug test.
He admitted having been immature and falling into a bad crowd at Tennessee, but this has been a very humbling time in which he learned how close he came to losing the thing he loves the most.
Banks could still return to the field, either by entering the NFL Draft or re-enrolling at Carson-Newman in January.
SMALL SCHOOL WONDERS
- Wingate (N.C.) senior cornerback David Jones has earned a spot among the big boys this fall. He has averaged 3-5 scouts per week at his games, thanks to his impressive combination of size, cover skills and production – even if it has come against lower-level competition.
"You can't find enough guys his size that can also cover receivers one-on-one, so I will keep coming back to check on him," explained a veteran area scout.
If you are a small-school prospect like Jones, at least one area of your game must stand out in practice or game film. So far, it's his ability to play man coverage. Since he is roughly 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, his size is also an immediate advantage. Scouts have concerns about the speed of the receivers he has gone against, but also feel that he uses fine technique and could be a sub-4.5 40 guy come pro day. Jones has already been invited to the East Coast Bowl in late November and hopes to parlay that into a bigger all-star game berth.
- Delaware senior tight end Ben Patrick has made his mark during his first and only season in Division I-AA. He leads the nation's tight ends in receptions with 47, including six straight games with five or more catches.
The Duke transfer has made an instant impact as both a receiver and blocker, thanks to his size (6-3, 268) and soft hands. He has provided a consistent target for the Blue Hens and fights for extra yards after the catch. But he is not a big-play threat. He has scored five times on 126 career receptions while averaging just over ten yards per catch.
Patrick has the ability to line up in a variety of spots – tight end, H-back, maybe even fullback – and should be fine on special teams, which could lead to him being taken as high as the fifth round, depending on his postseason results.
- Lindenwood (Mo.) senior wide receiver Steven Kennedy and senior defensive tackle David Gladney are hoping to follow in the footsteps of a former teammate, running back DeDe Dorsey, who impressed scouts enough to receive a free-agent contract from the Cincinnati Bengals before being signed by the Indianapolis Colts.
Kennedy, who is roughly 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, lines up at wide receiver, but has been working on his blocking skills and expects a conversion to tight end or H-back in the postseason. He has added about 10 pounds of muscle to his frame since last spring and is running in the mid-to-late 4.6 range.
Meanwhile, Gladney has been nearly unstoppable when blocked one-on-one, thanks to his combination of quickness, leverage and solid technique. He is slightly undersized (6-0, 285), but plays with the strength of a much bigger man and uses his quick first step to collapse the pocket and pressure opposing quarterbacks.
In fact, Gladney recorded 12 tackles against NAIA nationally-ranked Missouri Valley last week, while Kennedy caught his 23rd career touchdown pass in the same contest.
It should be noted that this coaching staff was responsible for recruiting and developing New York Giants running back Derrick Ward, who played at tiny Ottawa (Kan.) University for coach Pat Ross after initially being recruited by Fresno State.
- Julius Wilson
- Steve Slaton