Draft Buzz: Bowl matchups to watch
College football's regular season is over and bowl games are rapidly approaching, giving many NFL prospects one last chance to impress NFL scouts in game action.
Steve Muench's Stock Report
Villanova RB/WR Matt Szczur -- Szczur missed six games with ankle injuries this year but caught 11 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown in Villanova's 54-24 win over Stephen F. Austin in the second round of the FCS playoffs. His footwork in his routes could have been crisper but he tracked the ball well and snatched it out of the air instead of letting get to his frame. He looked quick and fought for yards after the catch. Szczur also chipped in with 68 rushing yards on nine carries and lined up at quarterback in Villanova's Wildcat formation. He showed excellent patience letting his blockers get into position, bounced outside when the defense collapsed inside and then turned on the jets when he got a seam on a 37-yard run in the third quarter. Szczur has the potential to develop into an effective slot receiver or situational back and he can contribute to the return game as well. He projects as middle-round pick if he declines an option to play baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization.
Wisconsin RB John Clay* -- Clay missed the Indiana and Michigan games with a knee injury before carrying the ball four times for a total of seven yards against Northwestern in the regular-season finale. His knee may not have been 100 percent but Wisconsin's ground game didn't suffer without him, which lends some weight to the argument that the Badgers' massive offensive line is the biggest reason for his success. The emergence of true freshman RB James White hasn't helped, either. White runs just as hard as Clay, has shown better burst and caught as many passes this year as Clay has caught during his entire college career. In fact, Clay will have to fight White and Montee Ball for carries if he decides to return to school. Finally, Clay appears to be carrying too much weight and he's had problems staying healthy over the past year.
Kevin Weidl's Stock Report
Pittsburgh RB Dion Lewis* -- He rushed for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns last season but Lewis was unable to carry that momentum over to 2010. He has slumped as a third-year sophomore due to ball security issues, the emergence of fellow RB Ray Graham and Pittsburgh's struggles along the offensive line. However, Lewis was back to his old self in the season-ending win over Cincinnati, carrying the ball 42 times for 261 yards and scoring four touchdowns. He is a squatty back with a low center of gravity and great balance, and he churned out a lot of yards after contact against the Bearcats. He lacks elite size but is stronger in the lower body than his size suggests, and I like his short-area burst. He's also remained healthy despite having over 500 carries in the last two seasons and has created some buzz heading into bowl season. Lewis is a draft-eligible sophomore but would do well to come back to school because he still projects as a mid-round pick.Florida State DE Markus White -- White's production has been good this season (12.5 TFL, 8 sacks), but after seeing him in person in the ACC championship game it's clear he's a late-round prospect. He lacks ideal instincts and struggled to find the ball, and at one point Virginia Tech RB Darren Evans broke a long run that set up a touchdown after White misread a zone-read play and missed an arm tackle. White also failed to come under control as a pass rusher and often allowed Hokies QB Tyrod Taylor to break contain and get on the edges. It's doubtful scouts will look a White's film and see the instincts and discipline necessary to move him up the board.
Scouts Inc. Observations
Muench: Every year there is a group of players who are considered 'tweeners, those who aren't an ideal fit at one position or another in the NFL. The most obvious example is defensive ends who move to outside linebacker in a base 3-4 scheme. They can rush the passer but lack both the size to play end and athletic ability to play outside linebacker in a base four-man front. They aren't the only example however. Tight ends who lack the bulk to develop into powerful inline blockers and the prototypical frame or speed to line up at receiver are becoming valuable commodities in the NFL. The ability of players like the Colts' Dallas Clark and Patriots 2010 fourth-round pick Aaron Hernandez to move around the formation makes it tougher for defenses to adjust and match up. Though the 2011 tight end class isn't great Arkansas' D.J. Williams and Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks have the tools to develop into the sane kind of contributor. Both have the burst to separate from linebackers and the size to shield defensive backs from the ball. They, too, could prove to be excellent values in the late third or early fourth round.
Weidl: The top quarterbacks on the draft board have a chance to build some momentum during bowl season. None has a better chance than Jake Locker, who faces Nebraska in the Holiday bowl and can make amends for a 4-for-20 performance against the Cornhuskers earlier this season. Locker led Washington to three straight wins at the end of the season to get the Huskies bowl-eligible, and a good showing against Nebraska's tough pass defense could resurrect his stock a bit. Ryan Mallett closed the season strong after imploding against Alabama and if he can make some plays against a good Ohio State secondary in the Sugar Bowl he will help his cause. As for Andrew Luck, his stock won't be affected much no matter what happens against Virginia Tech's aggressive defense in the Orange Bowl but it will be interesting to see how he handles the Hokies blitz packages. Finally, Cam Newton has proven a better passer than many thought, and while he still needs to develop in terms of progressions and working under center he could improve his standing with a good showing against an opportunistic Oregon defense in the BCS title game.