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Pat Devlin's playoff showcase

12/9/2010

If your thirst for college football isn't quenched by the historic Army-Navy game this weekend, don't forget the five FCS playoff games on the schedule. The overall talent level may be a tier below, but there are four players taking the field this weekend with good NFL tools who are worth watching.

New Hampshire QB Pat Devlin

There's a lot to like about Devlin's frame, quick release and poise in the pocket. His arm isn't nearly as strong as former Delaware QB and 2008 Baltimore Ravens first-round pick Joe Flacco, but it is strong enough to make all NFL throws. Devlin has the tools to provide quality depth and develop into an NFL starter in time.

Devlin faces a stingy New Hampshire pass defense (Friday, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2) that has had success getting to opposing quarterbacks with its front four and should force him to move around the pocket. Delvin has shown the ability to step up and avoid pressure off the edge, but the Wildcats can generate push up the middle and he is not as effective side-stepping pressure. There are also concerns about sloppy footwork affecting his touch and accuracy, so scouts will be eager to see how he resets when he's forced to move side to side. As it stands now, Devlin carries a late-third-round grade.

Villanova OT/G Benjamin Ijalana

Ijalana has started every game since arriving at Villanova in 2007, and he's lined up at tackle all four years. The former high school wrestler has the initial burst and athletic ability play tackle in the NFL, but he isn't quite 6-foot-4 and that raises concerns about his arm length and ability to ride edge-rushers past the pocket. If he doesn't work out at tackle, he is capable of transitioning to guard, where he has the size, upper-body strength and quick feet to become an effective starter with improved technique. That makes him a mid-third-rounder at this point.

Villanova takes on Appalachian State (Saturday, noon, ESPN) and Ijalana will face off with Mountaineers senior RDE Jabari Fletcher, who is an intriguing rookie free-agent possibility and a relentless pass-rusher, who will test Ijalana's ability to protect the edge. He does a good job of getting his hands up in passing lanes, so Ijalana has to make sure to keep his hands down by staying engaged with him and/or cutting his legs out from under him.

Villanova WR Matt Szczur

Szczur missed six games with ankle injuries this year, but he shined in Villanova's 54-24 win over Stephen F. Austin last week, finishing with 128 receiving yards and a touchdown on 11 catches. He isn't the fastest or biggest receiver in his draft class, but he has the burst to develop into a crisp short-to-intermediate route-runner and the smarts to locate seams in zone looks, so he has some upside as a slot receiver.

His versatility is impressive. He can line up at running back, quarterback or receiver, and he can return kickoffs and punts. He's a mid-round prospect, but Szczur was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the MLB draft this year and will have to decide between baseball and football.

Szczur faces a talented but inconsistent Mountaineers secondary, so look for offensive coordinator Sam Venuto to move Szczur around in an effort to create favorable matchups and get the ball in the hands of his best playmaker.

Appalachian State SS Mark LeGree

Legree doesn't have the prototypical speed for a free safety or size for a strong safety, but he can still help an NFL team. He is a playmaker who makes up for his lack of speed with athletic ability, instincts and technique. While he could take better pursuit angles at times, he is more than willing to step up in run support, and he flashes the ability to deliver the big hit. LeGree is a mid-round prospect.

Appalachian State's top priority will be stopping the run, thanks in part to a Villanova offensive line that can cover defenders at the first and second levels, and LeGree will have to be a force without biting on play-action. Legree is the quarterback of the secondary, so he has to locate Szczur and make any necessary adjustments to coverages.