Teenage sensation will be high draft pick
By Mel Kiper
Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye will still be a teenager when he's selected in April's NFL draft. The 19-year-old senior, who doesn't turn 20 until June, has the chance to be a first- or second-round pick. And this week, Okoye will be making his debut on my Top 25 Big Board.
Last week in the Cardinals' loss at Rutgers, Okoye (6-1Â¼, 295) had one sack and three quarterback hurries. He's third on the team in tackles and has six sacks, 11 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. At one point in his career, Okoye weighed 317 pounds, but he worked his way under 300 at the start of the season. He shows a lot of quickness and agility, does a good job of staying on his feet and gets good leverage on opposing blockers.
At USC, I have been waiting for junior defensive end Lawrence Jackson to show the dominating skills he displayed as a freshman and sophomore. Unfortunately, the talented fourth-year junior failed to make his presence felt with eye-popping performances -- something I had come to expect -- in the first two months of the season. All that changed Saturday as Jackson was a force off the edge against Oregon, finishing the game with 10 tackles and four stops behind the line of scrimmage. Jackson also registered his first three sacks of the season. Coach Pete Carroll and the Trojans need Jackson to show that same dominating form in the coming weeks with critical games against California, Notre Dame and rival UCLA still on the schedule. The next three weeks will determine whether the Trojans have a shot at playing the Michigan-Ohio State winner for the national title.
Cornerback Duane Coleman has shown his athleticism and versatility the past year at Clemson. A running back for most of his first three seasons, Coleman made the move to the defensive side of the ball for the final three games of 2005. Coleman is a great tackler for a cornerback who is really strong in run support. I like his aggressiveness and toughness, but he is going to have to show scouts how fast he can run in workouts to play in the secondary at the next level. Coleman will be a great special-teams player in the NFL, however, because he's physical and aggressive and is a very good tackler in the open field.
Each year, the Ivy League has a prospect or two with NFL ability. This year, one player in particular to watch is Brown senior linebacker Zak DeOssie. The Bears came up short against Dartmouth on Saturday, losing 19-13 in overtime, but as usual, DeOssie was around the action. The son of former Boston College and NFL linebacker Steve DeOssie, Zak finished with 14 tackles, and he leads the team in tackles (103) and tackles for loss (10Â½). He's also a very good special-teams performer, operating as Brown's long snapper. That type of versatility is a huge plus, especially when you're talking about an Ivy League prospect hoping to make the grade initially as a backup in the NFL.
Baylor's Dominique Zeigler is quietly having a nice season for the Bears. He leads the team in receptions and is averaging almost 14 yards a catch. He's long and lanky (6-2Â¼, 182) and needs to get stronger to play at the next level. But Zeigler does have phenomenal hands and great hand-eye coordination. The big question for him is his speed; Zeigler will need to have an impressive 40-yard dash time during his workouts to complement his athleticism.
Staying in the Big 12, Kansas State has one of the best true freshman in the country, quarterback Josh Freeman. At the start of the year, all the talk in the conference was about another freshman QB, Jevan Snead at Texas; however, on Saturday it was Freeman who ended the Longhorns' hopes of repeating as national champions. In the last three weeks, Freeman (6-6, 245) has turned heads in leading the Wildcats to three straight wins. Against the defending national champs, Freeman displayed the type of ability and feel for the game that usually is reserved for battle-tested seniors. Freeman was effortlessly and calmly moving around, showing the poise and confidence that ultimately could allow him to develop into an elite quarterback. He finished 19-of-31 for 269 yards and three touchdowns. After completing 40.6 percent of his passes with eight interceptions and no touchdowns in his first six games, Freeman has a completion percentage of 71.4 with six touchdowns and two interceptions in the last three games.The 18-year-old definitely has made his mark as one of the bright young prospects in the collegiate football ranks.
Josh Freeman has been a big reason why the Wildcats have won three straight games.
Freeman's big target Saturday was senior wide receiver Yamon Figurs (5-11Â½, 181). One of the fastest wide receivers in college football, Figurs had caught only 10 passes for 105 yards in his past four games. Against the Longhorns, he had six receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a 52-yard punt return that led to a K-State touchdown. Figurs always has been a deep threat, but coming into this season, he showed inconsistency catching the ball. With his speed, Figurs is a player NFL teams need to keep a close eye on.
The more I watch Arkansas' gifted sophomore running back Darren McFadden, the more I'm convinced he's the top running back in the nation and one of the top players in college football -- at any position. Blessed with enormous physical gifts to go with his pure running skills, McFadden has been at his best in the Razorbacks' most critical SEC matchups: 28 carries for 145 yards against Auburn, 25 carries for 219 yards at South Carolina and 30 carries for 181 yards Saturday against Tennessee. In the month of November, there hasn't been a player in the country at any position who has been more impressive than this young man.
Also in the SEC, a trio of juniors are leading the way for the Kentucky Wildcats, one of the great stories of the season. Quarterback Andre Woodson (6-4Â½, 240) completed 29 of 42 passes for 450 yards and four TDs in the the Wildcats' 38-26 win over Vanderbilt. Woodson is a pure pocket passer who has really developed in 2006. Last season, he was taking sacks when he should have been throwing the ball away, and he came into this season not guaranteed the starting job. Woodson looks a lot more instinctive this year, and his decision-making is much better.
In the past four games, there hasn't been a better wide receiver in the country than Keenan Burton (6-1Â½, 195). He has 11 catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns last week, and in his past four games, Burton has 30 receptions and six touchdowns. Not only is he a player with great character but he returns punts and kicks and is excellent catching the ball in traffic.
Running back Rafael Little (5-10, 199) returned after missing three games and rushed for 132 yards against Vanderbilt. He also had eight receptions for 114 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown. Little is very strong for his size, does a good job of breaking tackles and is extremely elusive.
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