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NFL Draft Prospects To Watch: Week 12

This is why we play the games. Every week there are upsets and blowouts. Some teams win games they are supposed to win, while others drop winnable games to less talented opponents. Now that we are getting closer and closer to the different Conference title games, we are starting to see the landscape shape itself. With Alabama losing to Texas A&M, this now gives way for Kansas State, Notre Dame, and Oregon to make their best bid for a BCS National Championship appearance.

While there aren’t many very games that stand out, there are several prospects worth watching. As we move further towards Bowl season, we will start to hear more and more about the NFL Draft, especially when talking about teams that have absolutely no playoff hopes. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some prospects to keep an eye on in this week’s games.

BYU @ San Jose State

BYU DE Ezekiel Ansah

Every year, there are players who enter the season as unknowns and tend to pick up a little steam as the season rolls along and eventually push their way towards being high draft picks – one player like that is Ezekiel Ansah.

Ansah (6’6, 270 lbs.) plays outside linebacker for BYU, but in the NFL will move to defensive end, as he has prototypical size and length for the position. His ability to move from DE to OLB for the Cougers’ 3-4 defense shows he has great athleticism, as well as versatility, and the ability to play in open space. Not many players his size get asked to move to linebacker, even in a 3-4 front, and normally get asked to just play on the line and be run stoppers. BYU saw Ansah as more of a pass rusher, and it has helped his draft stock to the point where he is now viewed as a second day pick.

Ansah has 47 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, and six pass deflections this season.

Tennessee @ Vanderbilt

Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson

At the beginning of the season, Tennessee dismissed 1,000 yard receiver Da’rick Rogers for violating team rules, and some wondered who would step up to replace his production and make plays opposite Justin Hunter. Junior College transfer and top recruit Cordarrelle Patterson answered the call early and has played himself into a potential second day draft pick.

Patterson (6’3, 205 lbs.) came into the year behind Hunter, Rogers and senior Zach Rogers, but has played better than Zach this season and shown he is a very versatile weapon. Patterson doesn’t have the receiving numbers that Hunter has, but he has shown to be a solid route runner, has reliable hands, and is good option on reverses with very solid return skills. On the year so far, Patterson has 39 receptions for 638 yards and four touchdowns, 23 carries for 270 yards and three touchdowns, and 18 kick returns for 553 yards and one touchdown (1,453 all-purpose yards).

Florida State @ Maryland

FSU DE Tank Carradine

When future first round pick and star defensive end Brandon Jenkins went down with a season ending injury in the preseason, there was some question as to who would replace his production. Bjorn Werner was going to be one starter and Tank Carradine was in line to start opposite him, but how would Carradine fare? He has answered with an impressive season thus far and has thrust himself into first round consideration.

Carradine (6’5, 265 lbs.) has really come on in 2012, ranking second on the team in tackles and tackles for loss and first in sacks in his first full season as a starter. He has the strength to set the edge in the run game and has shown the ability to shed blocks well and get penetration in the backfield. So far on the season, Carradine has 64 tackles, 10.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, and one forced fumble.

Arkansas @ Mississippi State

Arkansas WR Cobi Hamilton

This has been a very disappointing season for the Razorbacks to say the least. In the offseason, this was a team with BCS title dreams…then the coach got fired over a scandal, the star players started getting hurt early, and now this team is very likely to not make a bowl game for the first time since 2008. While this has been a season to forget and more change is on the horizon, one of the bright spots of the team has been WR Cobi Hamilton.

Hamilton (6’3, 209 lbs.) has been the only consistent weapon for the offense this season. With Knile Davis falling off the face of the Earth and Tyler Wilson getting beat up, Hamilton has been the only player the offense can lean on. He leads the team in every receiving category and it’s not even close, with the closest teammate having 22 catches for 289 yards. Hamilton has produced despite being double teamed regularly, and looks like a second day pick as of now. Hamilton has 73 receptions for 1,149 yards and four touchdowns so far this season.

Houston @ Marshall

Houston LB Phillip Stewart

Houston isn’t a good team and they are not going to make a bowl game. The defense has given up 30 points or more in seven games so far this season, 41 or more points in four of those games, and allowed SMU to drop 72 on them, which is amazing in it of itself. With all that in mind, you’re probably asking, “Then why are you listing a defensive player on such a terrible defense as a ‘Player to Watch’?”. LB Phillip Stewart is listed here because he is a playmaker and a very good player on an otherwise awful defense.

Stewart (6’0, 223 lbs.) is slightly undersized by NFL standards, but he is a solid football player overall. Stewart is among the national leaders in tackles, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and sacks. He has been very good in coverage throughout his collegiate career as he has 10 career picks, and this year he has showed the ability to be a good blitzer as well. So far on the year, Stewart has 104 tackles, 16.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, five forced fumbles, two interceptions and two pass deflections.

Purdue @ Illinois 

Purdue DT Kawann Short

Purdue is another team that isn’t quite right. Before winning last week at Iowa, Purdue had been on a five game losing streak, and will likely not make a Bowl game even if they win their last two games. So if you want to see one of college football’s best inside pass rushers and a future first round draft pick in DT Kawann Short, you will need to watch this week or next when they take on bitter rival Indiana.

Short (6’3, 315 lbs.) has had a solid season thus far for the Boilermakers. After literally doing nothing in a loss against Penn State, Short came back with a vengance last week in the win over Iowa, with six tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack. He showed just how dominant he can be after going through a rough five game stretch in which he had no sacks and only two tackles for loss. The first Senior Bowl declarations were released, and Short was on that list, so it will be interesting to see how he does against some of the better offensive linemen in the country. Short has 32 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, one forced fumble, and four blocked kicks/punts.

USC @ UCLA

UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin

This is a very important game in the BCS Bowl world, as the winner of this game will win the PAC-12 South and go on to play Oregon in the PAC-12 Championship for a shot at the PAC-12’s spot in the Rose Bowl (if Oregon runs the table they will likely earn a BCS National Title spot). There is a bunch of quality NFL talents that will be on display in this game, but RB Johnathan Franklin will be the prospect to keep an eye on because UCLA will want to keep USC’s offense off the field as much as possible.

Both teams average around 37 points per game, but USC, with consensus first-round pick QB Matt Barkley throwing to future first rounders WR’s Marqise Lee and Robert Woods and a solid ground game led by Silas Redd, are clearly a very dangerous combination for any defense. Franklin is ranked 8th in the nation in rushing yards and is averaging 6.38 yards per carry, and he will be key in keeping the chains moving and tiring the Trojans’ defense.

Franklin (5’11, 195 lbs.) has a nice combination of speed and power, showing the ability to break tackles and churn out tough yards, or turn a short gain into a long touchdown run down the sideline (his longest run of the season is 78 yards). He also has shown good hands out of the backfield, and he is seen as a second day pick as of now. For the season, Franklin has 199 carries for 1,270 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, and 24 receptions for 276 yards and two touchdowns.

Game of the Week: Stanford @ Oregon

Stanford OLB Trent Murphy

This is the heavyweight matchup to watch this week, and man is it a good one. Oregon is undefeated, has the top scoring offense in the country, and has the third best rushing attack in the country. Stanford has the 11th best scoring defense in the nation and is #1 against the run. Something has to give.

No team has been able to slow down let alone stop the Ducks’ high speed, high scoring attack, and it will be up to the stingy Cardinal defense to try and keep the game close. Linebackers Chase Thomas and Shayne Skov are the more well known NFL Draft prospects on the Cardinal defense, but fellow LB Trent Murphy has had a great season and will be the prospect to watch in this contest. He leads Stanford in sacks and is among the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss.

Murphy (6’6, 261 lbs.) is built more like a defensive end than an outside linebacker, even for a 3-4 defensive front, but he is more than your one dimension edge rusher. Murphy has shown he can play in space and even make the occasional play in coverage, as evidenced by his pick six against Washington earlier this season. It will be a big test for both Thomas and Murphy to help maintain the outside and contain the Oregon ground game and funnel plays inside. Murphy is at his best against better competition, and he had his best game of the season against Notre Dame, where he had 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hurries.

On the season, Murphy has 44 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one interception (which he returned for a touchdown), and two pass break ups.