Scouting Bowls for Future NFL Stars
By Matt Zenitz
This is part three in an on-going series. Also see: Part I | Part II
It's bowl season again in college football. While many people will be worrying about the winners and losers of each game, other fans will focus on individual players who could be household names by the time the NFL Draft rolls around in April.
With dozens of bowls and thousands of players to keep track of, PressBox is providing notes on some of the best players in the upcoming bowl games. For more scouting reports, go to PressBoxOnline.com.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl
Arizona State vs. Hawaii (Dec. 24, 8 p.m.)
Colt Brennan - quarterback (6-foot-3, 190 pounds, junior)
You can't talk about Hawaii football without bringing up Brennan and his magical season. The junior signal caller completed 72 percent of his passes for 4,990 yards, 53 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Brennan has elite accuracy and makes great decisions in the pocket but when things break down he is capable of taking off and running with the ball as seen by his rushing numbers (351 yards, five TD). He leads the country in five statistical categories (passing yards, completion percentage, pass efficiency, total offense and points responsible for) and is only one touchdown pass shy of the NCAA single-season record.
Others to watch: FS Leonard Peters
Zach Miller - tight end (6-foot-5, 259, junior)
Arguably the best at his position in the country, Miller hails from a program that has a reputation for producing solid tight ends, including the Ravens' Todd Heap. The second team AP All-American is the go-to guy for quarterback Rudy Carpenter and has been one of the few consistent performers in the Arizona State passing game. Miller has great ball skills, receiver-like hands and is also a willing blocker. Miller leads Arizona State receivers with 49 catches and was the top-ranked tight end in the country by Rivals.com.
Others to watch: SS Josh Barrett (junior), FS Zach Catanese
Motor City Bowl
Middle Tennessee vs. Central Michigan (Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m.)
Damon Nickson - strong safety (6-foot, 177, junior)
In his first year as a starter, Nickson quickly established himself as one of the top playmakers in the Sun Belt Conference. The junior logged a league-record four interceptions against Louisiana-Lafayette, while adding a forced fumble and six tackles. However, Nickson may have made his name on special teams where he was named by SI.com a second-team All-American after returning two kicks for touchdowns and averaging nearly 30 yards per kick return.
Joe Staley - offensive tackle (6-foot-5, 300)
In a senior class full of elite prospects at offensive tackle, Staley stands out with unheard of athleticism at the position -- he ran a 4.7 in the 40-yard dash for NFL scouts last spring. Staley has great footwork and allowed only one sack over the past two seasons while paving the way up front for an offense that ranked first in the MAC in scoring and total offense.
Dan Bazuin - defensive end (6-foot-3, 272)
The three-time first team All-MAC performer hasn't had the same success as his junior season, but Bazuin overcame constant double teams to compile 59 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Bazuin has good speed coming around the corner, which helped him set the Central Michigan record for sacks (33) and tackles for a loss (60). He earned MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2005 after recording 16.5 sacks and 26.5 tackles for a loss.
Others to watch: MLB Red Keith (junior)
Florida State vs. UCLA (Dec. 27, 8 p.m.)
Buster Davis - middle linebacker (5-foot-10, 240)
In a down year for the Florida State program, Davis was spectacular in leading the 15th-ranked defense in the country. The American Football Coaches Association All-American is a tenacious warrior who, despite his small stature, hits like a ton of bricks and is a force against the run. Davis always seems to be around the ball and his ability to make plays from sideline to sideline enabled him to compile more than 100 tackles during the regular season.
Lawrence Timmons - outside linebacker (6-foot-3, 230, junior)
An extremely athletic player, Timmons took over the strong side linebacker position, which had been manned by 2006 first round pick Ernie Sims, and seemed to get better each week. The junior disrupted plays in opposing backfields all season with his speed and quickness and was also a key component in the team's rushing defense. His athleticism and production (74 tackles, five sacks, two blocked kicks) may lead Timmons to declare for this year's draft and if he does, he has to be considered one of the top players at his position.
Others to watch: RB Lorenzo Booker, WR Chris Davis.
Justin Hickman - defensive end (6-foot-2, 263)
Hickman uses brute strength and good quickness to constantly get in the face of opposing quarterbacks. With his size and strength, Hickman is also a solid defender against the run but there's no question that he makes his living rushing the passer. The second-team AP All-American is tied for second nationally with teammate Bruce Davis in sacks and led the Pac 10 with 18.5 tackles for a loss.
Bruce Davis - defensive end (6-foot-3, 237, junior)
Davis stepped in as the starter opposite Hickman and helped form of the top defensive end tandems in the country. In his first year as the fulltime starter, Davis quickly established himself as one of the most dominant and unstoppable pass rushers in the country. His 12.5 sacks are tied for most on the team with Hickman. The junior has already stated that he wants to return to school for his senior season, unless the NFL tells him he would be a Top-10 pick this year.
Others to watch: S Chris Horton (junior), S Dennis Keyes (junior), K Justin Medlock, OG Shannon Tevaga.
PetroSun Independence Bowl
Oklahoma State vs. Alabama (Dec. 28, 4:30 p.m.)
Adarius Bowman - wide receiver (6-foot-4, 220, junior)
Bowman became just the third player in Oklahoma State history to record 1,000 receiving yards. Bowman doesn't have elite speed but is very physical and can make tough catches in traffic. Bowman had his best game of the year against Kansas, gaining 300 yards on 13 catches and four touchdowns. Kansas was far from his only victim as Bowman routinely shredded Big 12 secondaries and showed the ability to make big plays, averaging almost 20 yards a catch.
Ryan McBean - defensive tackle (6-foot-5, 290)
McBean is physical against the run and is very fast for his size, which enables him to penetrate the pocket. Opposing offenses keyed on him this year which didn't allow him to have huge numbers but his athleticism still enabled him to compile 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. The attention he gets from opposing offensive lines has opened things up for his fellow defensive lineman. McBean has started all 23 games he has played in at Oklahoma State after he transferred from Hinds Community College.
Others to watch: DE Victor Degrate, OT Corey Hilliard, WR D'Juan Woods.
Kenneth Darby - running back (5-foot-11, 215)
After two straight 1,000 yard seasons, Darby suffered a setback in 2006. The senior led the Crimson Tide in rushing but could only muster one touchdown. Regardless, Darby is still an explosive runner who is capable of breaking a long run at any point of the game. He has good moves in the open field and is adept at getting to the perimeter and making plays to the outside. Darby was viewed as one of top senior running backs in the country coming into the season but has seen his stock fall due to the lack of production.
Juwan Simpson - OLB (6-foot-3, 222)
Simpson battled some off the field problems but when he's been on the field he has been a consistent performer for a solid Alabama defense. Simpson has good speed and is athletic enough to make plays in pass coverage.
Others to watch: CB Simeon Castille (Junior), DT Jeremy Clark, DE Wallace Gilberry (Junior), D.J Hall (Junior).
Pacific Life Holiday Bowl
California vs. Texas A&M (Dec. 28, 8 p.m.)
Marshawn Lynch - running back (5-foot-11, 217, junior)
One of the dynamic players in the country, Lynch combines a bruising running style with great speed to help make him arguably the most balanced running back out there. Lynch runs with great power, will rarely go down on first contact and is an absolute terror when he gets into the secondary as he has the speed to pull away from defenders. The junior also shows dependable hands from the running back position and provides a weapon catching the ball out of the backfield. Lynch will battle Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson to be the top running back in this year's draft.
Daymeion Hughes - cornerback (5-foot-11, 188)
A true "shutdown" corner in every sense of the word and a playmaker in the California secondary. Hughes locked down opposing receivers all year and made quarterbacks pay when they tried to test him, picking off a Pac-10-best eight passes and returning two for touchdowns, while also adding 11 pass deflections. The Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year also does a solid job against the run, ranking second on the team with 67 tackles.
Others to watch: MLB Desmond Bishop, DT Brandon Mebane.
Justin Warren - MLB (6-foot-3, 242)
Warren, named first team All-Big 12 for the second straight year, is a hard nosed player who is always around the action and has led the Aggies in tackles in both of the last two seasons. A four-year starter, Warren doesn't have great speed but makes up for it with instincts.
Others to watch: SS Melvin Bullitt, DE Chris Harrington (Junior), RB Courtney Lewis.
Champs Sports Bowl
Purdue vs. Maryland (Dec. 29, 8 p.m.)
Anthony Spencer - defensive end (6-foot-3, 261)
The third-team AP All-American has harassed offenses in 2006 and leads the country in tackles for a loss, with 26.5. Spencer has excellent speed and is very strong at the point of attack. Spencer is a very good tackler and is knack for making the big hit, forcing five fumbles this season and 11 in his career. His 86 tackles are the most in the Big Ten by a defensive lineman and his 10.5 sacks are a team best.
Others to watch: WR Dorien Bryant (junior)
Josh Wilson - cornerback (5-foot-9, 187)
Wilson vastly improved his game as a senior, developing into one of the better cover corners in the ACC. He has always been blessed with track-star speed (4.28 40-yard dash) but really worked to become a complete player in 2006. Wilson consistently shut down one side of the field for the Terrapins (12 pass deflections). The DeMatha product is also strong against the run, compiling more than 120 tackles over the last two seasons. The speedster provides a huge threat in the kick return game, as well, averaging more than 28 yards a return and returning one kick for a touchdown. Wilson has seen his draft stock go through the roof with his improved play as a senior, and his stock should rise even more after the NFL Combine.
Others to watch: DT Conrad Bolsten, OLB David Holloway.
Matt Zenitz is a co-host of PressBox Live Sunday, which airs 9-11 a.m. weekly on ESPN Radio 1300-AM. For the next few months, Matt will break down the top college players as the NFL prepares for its 2007 draft.
Issue 1.35: December 21, 2006
Feel free to let Matt know what you think of his picks. Share your thoughts below and we'll share some of the responses online and in the paper.