The latest version of the "Game of the Century," this time between LSU and Alabama, disappointed most football fans. But NFL scouts closely inspected the almost two dozen players with high NFL potential in the contest. They also saw several lesser-known prospects around the country, many who project as later-round choices, perform at the NFL level this weekend.
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame*: The Irish never missed a beat at tight end despite the departure of Kyle Rudolph to the NFL. Eifert, who took over for the injured Rudolph early in the 2010 season, has shown an impressive array of skills the past two years. He's a big-bodied tight end who effectively blocks on the line of scrimmage and gets downfield to make the reception. He hauled in three receptions for 60 yards and a score against Wake Forest on Saturday. For the season Eifert has totaled 48 catches, 506 yard and 4 touchdowns. Several scouts feel Eifert will be selected earlier than Rudolph (No. 43 overall in April) if he enters the draft.
Josh Chapman, NT, Alabama: While the Alabama-LSU game turned out to be a bit of a snoozer, Chapman impressed NFL scouts with his play. He's a powerful nose tackle who clogs the middle of the field and collapses the pocket. Several times during critical moments of Saturday night's game Chapman was able to get penetration and disrupt the action. He's a nuts-and-bolts defender who brings his lunch pail to work and offers starting potential in the NFL.
Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma: Fleming has been struggling with a knee injury for much of the season, but looked in top form on Saturday. During the Sooners' dominant victory over Texas A&M, the senior intercepted a pass, broke up two more and forced a fumble. He also finished the game with 6 tackles. Assorted injuries and personal issues have shadowed Fleming the past two seasons, but scouts hope he's finally turning the corner and meeting the expectations placed on him.
Rodney McLeod, S, Virginia: McLeod was considered a free agent prospect after his junior season, but his play the past two months has positively impacted his draft grade. He leads the stingy Cavalier defense with four interceptions and seven passes broken up, and has added 42 tackles this season. The senior lacks classic size and speed, but is productive in so many areas he'll be tough to pass up in the late rounds next April.
Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas: Acho is another real good football player that doesn't "wow" anyone with his computer numbers, but is always making positive plays. He leads the Longhorn defense with 60 tackles, most recently posting 11 tackles in a victory over Texas Tech. Smart and competitive, Acho will make a nice addition at inside linebacker for a 3-4 defense at the next level.
Jake Bequette, DE, Arkansas: After struggling early in the season with a hamstring injury, Bequette has watched his play take off. During the Razorbacks' dominant victory over South Carolina, he posted a season-best three sacks and added three tackles and a forced fumble. Bequette is an intense defender with a frame that will add bulk and power over the course of time. Considered a late-round pick entering the season, look for Bequette to make his way into the middle frames by the time the draft rolls around.
Phillip Thomas, S, Syracuse*: Thomas stood out despite his team losing to UConn by a touchdown. The junior led the Orangemen with 10 tackles and delivered a pair of drive-killing interceptions against the Huskies. Those numbers improved his season totals to 68 tackles and six interceptions, both tops on the SU defense. Thomas, a dynamic safety, is developing a complete game and gaining notice in the scouting community.
Terrell Manning, OLB, North Carolina State*: Manning was the most dominant factor during North Carolina State's shutout of crosstown rival North Carolina. The linebacker led the defense with 11 tackles and three pass defenses. He offers a well-rounded game and has been productive in every defensive category this season. Manning projects nicely as a weakside linebacker in the NFL and could slide into the draft's first 100 picks.
Lavon Brazill, WR, Ohio: Scouts had high expectations for Brazill prior to the 2010 season, but a knee injury cut short his campaign. He's returned to form this year and has looked brilliant at times. During an important conference victory over Temple, Brazill posted a team-leading seven receptions for 165 yards. He's already posted career bests for receiving yardage (740 yards), yards per catch (16.8) and touchdowns (8) with three games left this season, and is the Bobcats' top punt returner. Brazill is displaying the skills necessary to make a roster as a fourth receiver and return specialist in the NFL.
*Sleeper* Kevin Koger, TE, Michigan: Koger was bogged down the past three seasons in an offense that rarely implemented the tight end. The senior has been a larger part of the passing game this year and is impressing NFL scouts. The 260-pounder has the strength to effectively handle blocking duties plus the hands necessary to be a reliable intermediate target. He's developing a complete game and has the skills to line up as a second tight end at the next level.
Notes: The torn knee ligament suffered by Sooner receiver Ryan Broyles, which ended his college career, will undoubtedly hurt his draft stock. The OU senior, who bypassed last April's draft in order to return to Norman, was slotted into the early part of the second round based on his play this season. Scouts questioned Broyle's top-end speed but love his precise route-running skills and ability to quickly get into breaks, then separate from defenders. It may be a while before Broyles is able to run sharp routes, and the general consensus on Sunday was the injury will likely push him into the third round.