Prospect Watch: Key cornerstone

Yahoo Sports
TOP SENIORS FOR NFL DRAFT
TOP FALLING SENIOR PROSPECTS
1. Baraka Atkins, Miami, DL
2. Willis Barringer, Michigan, S
3. Jordan Palmer, UTEP, QB
4. Kyle Young, Fresno State, OL
5. Adam Carriker, Nebraska, DE
TOP DEFENSIVE ENDS
1. Gaines Adams, Clemson (projected OLB)
2. Quentin Moses, Georgia
3. Anthony Spencer, Purdue
4. Victor Abiamiri, Notre Dame
5. Clifton Ryan, Michigan State (projected DT)
TOP DEFENSIVE TACKLES
1. Quinn Pitcock, Ohio State
2. DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler, N.C. State
3. Marcus Thomas, Florida
4. Brent Curvey, Iowa State
5. Justin Harrell, Tennessee

Cornerback Darrelle Revis set his sights on helping bring Pittsburgh back into contention this season. In the process of achieving that goal, the junior has put himself in prime position to be considered one of the nation's best defensive backs.

While playing the role of shutdown cornerback, Revis has returned both of his interceptions for touchdowns and, along with linebacker H.B. Blades (a Butkus Award semifinalist), he has led a defensive unit that has caused 24 turnovers in eight games. Even though he has been held in check as a punt returner (5.9 yards per return) this season, Revis has showed exciting ability in that area before, having returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown last season. He also blocked a kick in a win over Connecticut.

Revis is the nephew of Sean Gilbert, a former NFL first-round pick and defensive lineman, and he was a three-sport star in high school, playing a variety of roles on the football team (including quarterback), scoring more than 26 points per game in basketball and running on the relay team in track. Revis has ideal size at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, and he plays the game with an aggressive attitude, as evidenced by the fact that he is not afraid to come up and tackle against the run.

Revis also gets after the ball when it is in the air. He can be a little overaggressive at times, but he is not often flagged. He isn't a big talker on the field, either. Still, he plays with great confidence and has become a true student of the game and a leader in the Panthers' secondary.

So while Blades and senior quarterback Tyler Palko receive the accolades for spurring Pittsburgh to a 6-2 record, those who watch the game films realize the defense's added success in creating pressure and turnovers starts with Revis holding down his side of the field on a weekly basis.

MORE PROSPECT NOTES

  • Maryland cornerback/return man Josh Wilson has established himself as a dual threat this season for the Terrapins and created quite a stir among area scouts. Using his sub-4.3-second speed, the senior has averaged 32.5 yards per kickoff return, including a 100-yard touchdown earlier this season, and showed improved cover skills on the defensive side of the ball.

At 5-10 and 185 pounds, Wilson has enough size to play every down at the next level, and his impressive burst in the open field and knack for making up ground when the ball is in the air has started to lift his draft grade towards the second and third rounds depending on who you ask. Wilson's ability to blaze across the line at 4.28 or better in next year's NFL combine could catapult him even higher up the charts.

  • Louisiana-Monroe senior defensive back Kevin Payne is one of the most unique players in the country, as he leads the Warhawks in four categories: tackles (64), interceptions (four), kickoff returns (20 yards per return) and punting (41.9 yards per punt). Yes, that's not a misprint. The former starting running back-turned-safety is also the starting punter and has even nailed a season-best punt of 63 yards.

Payne was very explosive as a return man last season, averaging nearly 30 yards per kickoff return, and his vision as an ex-running back and all-around athleticism made him one of the Sun Belt's most talented athletes. A three-sport standout in high school, Payne has a very good size/speed ratio at 6-1 and 220 pounds, running between 4.52 and 4.55 seconds in the 40. His stock is rising among local area scouts and will continue to do so once he gets into the postseason.

  • UNLV outside linebacker Beau Bell has captured the attention of West Coast scouts with his exciting combination of size, speed and playmaking skills. The junior has amassed 76 tackles, nine tackles for loss and four sacks in the Rebels' first seven games. Bell, who led the team with 92 tackles as a sophomore, averages almost 11 tackles per game to place him in the nation's top 10.

The game speed that the 6-3, 240-pounder exhibits on film would allow most evaluators to feel he probably runs the 40 in the 4.6 range. The 20-year-old Bell played behind a pair of future NFL draft picks, Travis Claridge and Adam Seward. Most who have observed Bell feel his final draft grade should eclipse his former teammates' fifth-round selections in 2005.

  • San Jose State cornerback Dwight Lowery has put himself in position to be rated as one of the nation's top defenders after just one season of Division I-A competition. The junior currently has a nation-best eight interceptions and recorded a total of 13 picks in two years at Cabrillo College in California.

Besides his excellent ball skills and ability to time his jumps to break up passes, the 5-11, 195-pound cover corner has shown eye-opening straight-line speed, which has led most area scouts to believe he would come in around the 4.4 range in the 40. Lowery is a gifted defender with a strong size/speed combination, but he has not been too talkative about an early jump to the NFL. He will at least request his draft grade from league officials at the end of the season.

  • Florida wide receiver Andre Caldwell has struggled to return to a prominent role with the Gators after missing most of his junior year due to a broken right leg.

Caldwell, the younger brother of current NFL wide receiver Reche Caldwell, has 23 receptions and averages 9.3 yards per catch, his longest covering just 25 yards. That is a long way from the explosive playmaker that impressed SEC opponents as a sophomore when he averaged 16 yards per catch and served as the team's primary kickoff returner.

Caldwell has been taken out of that role this season to let him concentrate on getting back to full stride with his speed and quickness. But right now, he is a step slower and has potentially fallen behind fellow seniors Jemalle Cornelius (19.1 yards per catch) and Dallas Baker, who has become the team's primary receiver.

  • Iowa quarterback Drew Tate could miss up to two to three weeks if he has surgery to repair ligament damage to his left thumb (non-throwing hand). The Hawkeyes, who have lost two games in a row and dropped three of their last four, now face Northern Illinois and Northwestern before a mid-November matchup against Wisconsin, which could feature the return of Tate.

Iowa has three winnable games down the stretch and could still earn a solid bowl berth if it can win without Tate, who has struggled at times this season and not provided the impact performances that many in the Big Ten expected, especially in the Hawkeyes' three losses in which the senior threw two touchdowns but four interceptions.

  • Missouri defensive end Brian Smith will be sidelined the rest of his senior campaign after suffering a broken right hip during the third quarter of the Tigers' win over Kansas State. He ended the season with 7½ sacks and 31½ career sacks, which is a school record.

Smith already had been extended an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game, but although his injury will not require surgery, he will unlikely be ready to play in the Jan. 20 game. That would disappoint scouts who wanted to evaluate him as a possible conversion to outside linebacker, especially in a 3-4 scheme to take advantage of his natural pass-rushing ability.

  • Clemson offensive guard Roman Fry will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee early in the loss to Georgia Tech. The senior had been providing the Tigers with solid play from his left guard position and had improved his preseason grade thanks to his stellar performance through the season's first two months.
  • Northwestern linebacker Nick Roach will miss the remainder of his senior campaign after suffering a broken right leg in the second half of last week's loss to Michigan State. He likely will require surgery to repair the injury and could be out two months or more depending on the severity of the break and nature of the surgery. Roach is expected to be ready for Pro Day workouts, but he will not get the chance to play in any of the postseason all-star games.

SMALL SCHOOL WONDERS

  • Western Oregon tight end Kevin Boss, a potential late-round prospect thanks to his excellent combination of size and speed and ability to stretch the field, will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn labrum in his left shoulder during a loss two weeks ago. If you want to witness his athleticism and pass-catching skills, all you need to do is examine Western Oregon's recent contest against Central Washington, as the senior took a pass along the sideline and raced 45 yards – hurdling a defender – for a touchdown that was called back by a penalty. Nonetheless, there are not too many players with Boss' size making those types of plays, including ones already playing tight end on Sunday afternoons.

An average of three to five area scouts attended his games, and his 4.6 speed, combined with the size and production he posted against his current level of competition, should be enough to earn Boss a place in the NFL combine. An all-star game berth still is possible if he makes a quicker than expected recovery. Team doctors have said Boss' rehabilitation will take roughly three months.

  • Illinois State outside linebacker Cameron Siskowic, who is currently the frontrunner for this year's Buck Buchanan Award given annually to the Division I-AA Defensive Player of the Year, is leading the finalists with 83 tackles, 4½ tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble. The senior had one of his best games of the year in the Redbirds' loss to Kansas State, recording double-digit tackles against a Big 12 opponent for the second straight season.

Siskowic has excellent speed (he ran 4.5 last spring) and can increase his playing weight towards 230 pounds with an offseason training program. The California native also is one of the most instinctive linebackers in the nation, playing with the same smarts that initially led him to be recruited to Washington State. His ability to shed tacklers at the line of scrimmage and also drop back into coverage makes him an ideal prospect on the strong side, and he has the speed to become a solid threat as a pass rusher and special-teams demon at the next level.

  • Ohio Northern defensive end Jason Trusnik has returned after missing last season with a broken right foot. The senior led the nation with 18½ sacks and 31 tackles for loss as a junior in 2004, and he has returned with a strong campaign, recording 32 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 7½ sacks, one fumble recovery and one blocked kick.

Trusnik's ability to get up the field and pressure opposing quarterbacks has led to nearly half the NFL sending area scouts to evaluate him in person or during practices. His postseason should include stops at multiple all-star games as well as an opportunity for him to be evaluated in several roles, including outside linebacker and stand-up pass rusher.

Trusnik has good size (6-4, 245) and exhibits enough strength against his current level of competition to make plays at the line of scrimmage, but he needs to work on his straight-line speed. Even though he plays faster than his timed speed, the ability to impress pro scouts would be much easier if he ran in the 4.7 range as opposed to 4.8 to 4.9.

  • Dixie State College of Utah wide receiver Travis Brown, who has taken a long and winding collegiate road, has posted numbers that have made a handful of area scouts take notice. The senior has caught 17 passes for 476 yards and two touchdowns and is averaging 28 yards per reception.

Brown was recruited to Oregon State and originally attended Dixie back when it was only a junior college. He then moved to Missouri Southern before finally heading back to Dixie, which was closer to home, after his head coach passed away. His production has come against a number of solid programs, including San Diego and Humboldt State, and his longest reception, an 80-yard touchdown, came against Division I-AA powerhouse Northern Arizona.

Brown is just one of a handful of upperclassmen on the Rebels' roster, but thanks to his reported 4.4 speed and ability to consistently gain big yards after the catch, he could find himself getting a few scouts singing more than "Dixie" at his pro day.

  • Southern Illinois tight end Braden Jones, a former Northwestern transfer, has gone from starting Big Ten linebacker earlier in his career to potential NFL draft choice as a tight end.

Jones – a senior who received an extra year of eligibility after not playing in 2004 and missing time last year with an injury – leads the team in receiving with 15 catches for 257 yards and four touchdowns. He also is averaging 17.1 yards per catch, including a long of 80 yards.

As a junior, Jones flashed excellent special teams ability while blocking a pair of kicks, and he has been timed in the 4.8 range in the 40 to go with a 36-inch vertical at roughly 6-3 and 260 pounds. His receiving skills have put him in position to challenge for a late-round to priority free agent grade based on his postseason workouts.