The college bowl season has kicked off in earnest and offers another phase of scouting for NFL franchises. Much of the focus will be on the high-profile players over the next three weeks but NFL scouts are just as interested in the talent not as well-known to football fans. Here's a list of legitimate NFL prospects who scouts will be closely monitoring in non-BCS contests: (*denotes underclassmen)
Robert Johnson/S/Utah: Johnson was not graded by NFL scouts coming into the season, yet could end up as a top 100 pick next April. His range in centerfield is impressive as Johnson is a complete safety with terrific ball skills in coverage as well as an aggressive nature defending the run. He'll have his work cut out for him in the Poinsettia Bowl against Cal's potent passing game.
Kevin Basped*/DE/Nevada: Basped is one-half of Nevada's pass rushing duo that terrorizes opposing QBs with regularity. His totals this season include a team leading 7.5 sacks as well as 10.5 tackles for loss. Basped is expected to enter April's draft and would like to leave on a high note in the Hawaii Bowl where Nevada is pitted against SMU and the high-flying offense of June Jones.
Taylor Price/WR/Ohio: Price has been Ohio's top receiver the past two years and possesses the size/speed numbers scouts want in a No. 1 wideout. He's rough around the edges and needs to polish his game, but Price is a prospect who could end up in the first half of the draft if he continues to prove his worth. He'll have another opportunity to showcase his skills against a porous Marshall defense in the Little Caesars Bowl.
Mick Williams/DT/Pittsburgh: The Panthers have an abundance of quality on the defensive side of the ball and it's easy for a player like Williams to get lost in the shuffle. The hard-charging senior is well thought of in scouting circles and Williams is a high motor defender who plays with great quickness. He was graded as a free agent entering the season but has since moved into the late rounds. North Carolina's stout offensive line will offer Williams another challenge in the Meineke Bowl.
Stanley Havili*/FB/USC: Fullbacks rarely cause excitement in scouting circles, but Havili is one of two from the Pac-10 who has scouts buzzing. He's a triple threat, excelling as a lead blocker, pass catcher or ball carrier. Havili has the skills to play in a variety of offensive schemes at the next level. He'll be a big part of the Trojans offense against Boston College in the Emerald Bowl.
Jarvis Jenkins*/DL/Clemson: The Clemson program has a history of putting talented defensive lineman into the NFL and Jenkins looks like the next big prospect. He's a tremendous athlete with outstanding size and the ability to line up at defensive tackle or as a two-gap end. The Kentucky Wildcats offensive line will have their work cut out for them trying to slow down Jenkins in the Music City Bowl.
Von Miller*/OLB-DE/Texas A&M: Miller has been a pass-terror for the Aggies and is considered by scouts to be one of the Big 12's better defensive players after Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. His 21 tackles for loss and 17 sacks ranks amongst the best in the nation. Scouts expect Miller to enter the draft where he'll be a top 60 pick. During the Independence Bowl he has an opportunity to feast on a Georgia offensive line that's been inconsistent all season.
Allen Bailey*/DL/Miami-Fla: Bailey is the third defensive prospect from the ranks of the underclassmen with potential at several positions. The athletic lineman has the size to play at tackle as well as the strength to hold down the defensive end position in the NFL. He'll have to earn his wage against Wisconsin's traditionally strong offensive line during the Champs Sports Bowl.
Steve Maneri/TE/Temple: Maneri moves towards the 2010 NFL Draft as the highest rated blocking tight end on draft boards. Scouts also think the 6-foot-5, 275-pound Maneri is a prospect at offensive tackle. Maneri's next task is slowing down the opportunistic UCLA defense as Temple makes its long awaited return to the postseason in the EagleBank Bowl.
Freddie Barnes/WR/Bowling Green: Barnes has been the most prolific receiver in the nation this season, leading the country with 129 receptions, 1,428 receiving yards and 14 touchdown catches. He's a terrific possession receiver that makes the important reception on third down. Barnes will have an opportunity to shine in the Humanitarian Bowl against an Idaho defense that gives up a fair share of points to the opposition.
Earl Mitchell/DT/Arizona: The eyes of the nation will be on Ndamukong Suh in the Holiday Bowl, but Arizona also has a legitimate defensive line prospect in Mitchell, an explosive tackle Nebraska must concentrate on.
Case Keenum*/QB/Houston: Keenum set the college football world on fire this season and is building a buzz about himself in the scouting community. He's drawing comparisons to Drew Brees in size and style and Keenum is likely to throw up big numbers against Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Owen Marecic*/FB/Stanford: Heisman Trophy runnerup Toby Gerhart's sensational season carrying the ball was due in large part to his lead blocker, the second top flight fullback prospect from the Pac-10. Marecic gives Stanford a dominant blocker in the backfield as well as a terrific pass catcher that makes plays downfield. Marecic will need all his skills against the dominant, aggressive Oklahoma defense in the Sun Bowl.
Danario Alexander/WR/Missouri: Alexander hopes to finish off his dominant senior season in style against Navy in the Texas Bowl. He rebounded from several knee injuries and became a leader on the Tigers offense in 2009. Alexander carries a third-round grade moving towards April, assuming his knees pass medical tests at the combine.
Luke Stocker/TE/Tennessee: Stocker was not on the radar screen coming into the season yet presently ranks as one of the top five senior tight ends in April's draft. He's a long, lean pass catcher that should grow into an effective blocker in time. His battle against Virginia Tech's Kam Chancellor in the Chick-fil-A Bowl could be epic.
Ryan Pugh*/C/Auburn: Pugh has become one of the nation's best centers since moving over from offensive tackle. He plays an intelligent brand of football, which nicely compliments his aggressive style. The Tigers face Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, a program always loaded with quality defensive linemen. It will be another good test for Pugh.
Jock Sanders*/RB/West Virginia: Sanders does not receive the same press as many of his teammates yet scouts think he's on a level with running back Noel Devine and quarterback Jarrett Brown. Sanders is a sensational pass catcher out of the backfield and also produces carrying the ball. He's perfectly suited to be a situational skill player in the NFL and will give the Florida State defense all they can handle in the Gator Bowl.
Nate Allen/S/South Florida: NFL scouts gave Allen high grades coming into the season and the senior has not disappointed. He's an intimidating defender in centerfield who plays big. Already invited to several important post-season All-Star games, Allen finishes his career with the Bulls in Canada at the International Bowl.
Weslye Saunders*/TE/South Carolina: Saunders has done an admirable job following in the footsteps of former Gamecock star tight end Jared Cook. Like his former teammate Saunders is a terrific athlete and downfield pass catching threat. Speculation is rampant Saunders will opt for April's draft following the PapaJohns.com Bowl against UConn.
Shay Hodge/WR/Mississippi: Hodge turned in a tremendous senior season and is zipping up draft boards. He's been branded as a possession receiver yet averaged 16.2 yards on 63 receptions this season. The Rebels return to the Cotton Bowl this year and square off against Oklahoma State. Hodge will be matched up against Cowboys cornerback Perrish Cox, considered by many scouts to be a top 45 selection next April.
Mitch Petrus/G/Arkansas: Petrus made a successful return to the field this year after sitting on the sidelines in 2008 to concentrate on academics. He's a former fullback who bullies defenders at the line of scrimmage or removes them from plays blocking in motion. The matchup against East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl is a good test for Petrus as the Pirates have several NFL prospects on the defensive line.
Greg Jones*/LB/Michigan State: The Spartans star linebacker has been a tackling machine since his freshman season. Jones has led Michigan State in tackles the past three years and is third in the nation this season with 141. He's an instinctive linebacker with a nose for the ball. Jones has publically stated he is weighing his options whether or not to enter the draft. The matchup against Texas Tech in the Alamo Bowl offers Jones the ability to prove he can cover the pass as well as defend the run.
Brandon Lang/DE-OLB/Troy State: Lange entered the season with high grades from NFL scouts and has played reasonably well. He's similar to former Troy State star DeMarcus Ware as Lange is another explosive college defensive end slated to move to linebacker at the next level. Lang will be able to showcase his skills in the GMAC Bowl against Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour, a QB as lethal carrying the ball as he is throwing it.