By Matt Feminis
Special to Stlouisrams.com
Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Nevada vs. Arizona at University Stadium (Albuquerque, NM), Saturday 12 p.m. ESPN
QB Matt Scott, Arizona — Scott actually opened the 2009 season as the Wildcats' starter ahead of Eagles third-rounder Nick Foles, but ceded the job after three games. He started two games as an injury replacement in 2010 before redshirting in 2011 in order to succeed Foles this season. In his first full year as a starting quarterback, Scott also had to adjust to first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread system. Not surprisingly, Scott’s performances have been up and down. He beat Oklahoma State and USC (when he threw for 369 yards and ran for 100 more) and aired it out 69 times for 491 yards in an overtime loss to Stanford, but struggled in losses to Oregon and Arizona State when he was intercepted six times. Scott (6-3, 196) has the Colin Kaepernick starter set. He's very athletic and has excellent foot speed for a quarterback. He sets quickly and can move the pocket or evade pressure. He also has a live, loose arm — he's able to zip short-to-intermediate throws and flashes ability to fit balls into tight windows. However, he's as unrefined as his experience level indicates. Scott tends to stare down receivers and is inconsistent mechanically, which contributes to erratic ball placement. He needs to shorten his long-armed, low three-quarters delivery (susceptible to batted passes), but that’s just one aspect of Scott's game which is best described as raw. Given his crude physical tools, Scott could have developmental value in the fifth or sixth round for a team willing to be patient.
RB Stefphon Jefferson*, Nevada — In his fourth year in the program, Jefferson became the Wolfpack’s feature back and responded with a very productive season. The 5-11, 210-pounder earned first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors after ranking second nationally in rushing (141.9 yards per game). Jefferson has toted 341 times for 1,703 yards (5-yard average) and 22 touchdowns (second nationally) with 22 receptions for 170 yards (7.7) and a score. He’s been a workhorse, averaging 28.4 carries per game, second only to Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell. Running out of Jeff Ault’s “pistol,” Jefferson’s production trumps his physical traits. He has good size and feet, but runs upright, is monotone through the hole and gears down to cut. He shows average explosiveness, elusiveness and tackle breaking. He’s not a back who’s going create yardage on his own or push the pile. Ball security is also an issue, as Jefferson has fumbled seven times this season. At this point, Jefferson is a zone slasher who would be best served returning for his senior season.
S Duke Williams, Nevada — From Week 11 College Football Preview: “Wolfpack safety Duke Williams (6-1, 200), an enigmatic talent with starter-caliber ability who has been frustratingly inconsistent. He'll be tested by one of the most productive quarterback-running back duos in the country: Derek Carr and Robbie Rouse. Williams is a very athletic three-year starter who runs like a cornerback and closes fast. He flies downhill and runs the alley. However, he has alarming tweener traits and stands out on tape for the wrong reasons — lacks ideal bulk and doesn't play with the abandon (turns down contact) or dependability of a strong safety and has questionable eyes and instincts for a free safety. An inconsistent tackler, Williams too often tries to shoulder down or launch at ballcarriers, leaking yardage or failing to secure the tackle. He'll also face character questions, having been suspended three times as a young player. Entering the season, Williams looked like a potential riser, but he's playing more like a mid-round pick.”
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Toledo vs. Utah State at Bronco Stadium (Boise, ID), Saturday 3:30 p.m. ESPN
CB Will Davis, Utah State — A basketball player and standout long jumper as a Washington prep, Davis played only one season of high school football. He made the most of it, nabbing seven interceptions before committing to Western Washington. However, the Division II football program was abandoned, forcing Davis to De Anza College (Calif.), where he tallied eight pass breakups and eight interceptions in 2010. With the Aggies in 2011, Davis started 5-of-13 games, but was not an impact player. That has changed in 2012. Davis leads the nation in passes defended, having recorded 56 tackles, 16 pass breakups and five interceptions (one in each of the last five games) with 4 1/2 tackles for loss. The first-team All-WAC performer's ascent has not gone unnoticed, as he's been chosen to participate in the Senior Bowl. Listed at 6-foot, 186 pounds, Davis has good size and length and smooth movement skills, displaying starter-caliber balance, agility, speed and quickness. He has an easy, light-footed pedal and can flip his hips and run vertical. He’s not immune to a drop, but has good hands to intercept. Aside from gaining more experience (quantity of reps and quality of opponents), Davis needs to get functionally stronger in order to press and set a harder edge. A grab-and-drag tackler, he is not a striker and generally plays with average physicality. Overall, Davis is an emerging prospect with upside whose size, man-cover skills, ball skills and upside will garner consideration in the second- to third-round range.
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: BYU vs. San Diego State at Qualcomm Stadium (San Diego, CA), Thursday 7 p.m. ESPN
WR Cody Hoffman*, BYU — Big, productive and on the NFL radar, Hoffman is contemplating leaving Provo a year early thanks to a big junior season. The 6-4, 215-pound receiver has very good size and length, and has increased his production in each of his three seasons as a starter. He enters the bowl game with 90 receptions for 1,134 yards (12.6-yard average) and 11 touchdowns. Hoffman is able to escape the jam and can stem and nod and set up defenders to create separation, as he sinks his hips and gets in/out of breaks well for a taller receiver. Hoffman excels with the ball in the air thanks to his tracking, adjustment and body control. He attacks throws and flashes very strong hands to secure contested catches. Accordingly, he has a sizable catching radius — reaches for high throws, cradles low throws and extends for throws outside his frame. More smooth and crafty than explosive or sudden, Hoffman lacks elite top-end speed (relies on double moves to separate deep) and burst off the line. For his size, his physicality, run strength and blocking all rate as average. He was contained by Boise State (3-21-0) and struggled in a cold-weather game against Idaho, dropping two passes and double-catching two more. Hoffman, who looks very natural executing the slant route and runs a variety of pro-style patterns, projects as a West Coast receiver with a ceiling as a No. 2. He’s a third-round talent, but stands to improve his stock by returning for his senior season.
CB Leon McFadden, San Diego State — A team captain and three-time first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection, McFadden, who was recruited as a receiver, has terrific career ball production: 35 pass breakups and eight interceptions, including a 96-yard pick-six against Fresno State this season. He doesn’t panic when the ball goes in the air and has good hands to intercept — can highpoint and catch off his frame. He plays with excellent balance derived from a low center of gravity, as he’s quick-footed and loose-hipped mirroring receivers off the line. Transitions and plants and drives smoothly. He also shows good awareness and reactions in zone coverage — drives on throws and is quick in short area. McFadden (5-10, 190) doesn’t have an elite skill set, as he lacks ideal height/length, press strength and top-end speed. His recovery burst is average and he’s not challenged by top-flight receivers in the WAC. However, overall McFadden is an athletic, competitive, instinctive cornerback who plays the ball competently and supports the run willingly. He has upside as a No. 2 or No. 3 and has traits to be used over the slot. If he passes the stopwatch test and shows well at the Senior Bowl, McFadden could draw second- or third-round interest.
TE Gavin Escobar*, San Diego State — A three-year starter and two-time Mackey Award semifinalist, Escobar has terrific size (6-6, 255) with a big, projectable frame. His best trait is receiving ability, as evidenced by his 92 receptions for 1,299 yards (15.8-yard average) and 13 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He shows average speed and suddenness, but Escobar should have no problems running the tight end route tree. He’s a big, reliable target who catches what he gets his hands on, be it short, intermediate, in the red zone or stretching the seam. He adjusts to throws, has good body control and snares throws out of the air (makes contested grabs). Blocking, however, does not come as naturally for Escobar, who needs to continue getting bigger and stronger in order to match with NFL defensive ends. He also needs to improve his blocking technique and physicality in order to sustain and finish better than he does. A low-key guy who paints in his free time, Escobar toils in relative anonymity in a “mid-major” conference on the West Coast, but he has a poor man’s Tyler Eifert skill set to develop into a useful No. 1 or No. 2 NFL tight end.
LB Kyle Van Noy*, BYU — Updated from Week 4 College Football Preview: Van Noy (6-3, 235) was a standout linebacker-receiver in Nevada, where he won a state championship and competed in track (4x100, 4x200 and 4x400). Highly recruited, he chose BYU over Pac-12 offers, but was busted for DUI days before National Signing Day 2009. After sitting out the season, he enrolled in 2010, but was a non-factor early, prompting a two-hour sit-down with head coach Bronco Mendenhall. He’s been ascending ever since. In 38 career games (20 starts), BYU’s weak-side linebacker has recorded 148 tackles, 41 for loss and 20 1/2 sacks with 12 hurries, ten forced fumbles, ten pass breakups, four interceptions and two blocked kicks. Van Noy looks the part with a well-proportioned build and is athletic with good movement skills, enabling him to play forward, backward and laterally. He opens up his stride in space, covers ground and has deceptive closing speed.
Further, he has greater upside as a pass rusher assuming he continues honing his technique. Just a junior and coming off February surgery to repair a torn labrum, Van Noy could stand to get improve his press strength, play with better eye discipline and become a better finisher (leaves some production on the field), but he’s a burgeoning prospect with size, athleticism and versatility with potential to develop into a 4-3 strong-side ’backer, run the deep middle inside a “Tampa 2” scheme or stand up in a 3-4.
OLB Ezekiel Ansah, BYU — Updated from Week 5 College Football Preview: Born and raised in Ghana, Ansah joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and received an academic scholarship to BYU in 2008. Intent on pursing athletics, he had thoughts of playing basketball before joining the Cougars track team. In 2010, he met with head coach Bronco Mendenhall and expressed his desire to join the football team. Despite not knowing how to put pads on. Literally. After overcoming Mendenhall’s skepticism to earn a spot on the team, Ansah barely scratched the stat sheet his first two seasons while familiarizing himself with the game. However, he’s made remarkable developmental strides, impressing coaches and teammates along the way with his aptitude and raw ability.
No longer just a cute story, Ansah — who has learned outside linebacker and defensive end — has shown glimpses of legitimate developmental potential. Understandably, he remains a raw work in progress, but he certainly looks the part and flashes moldable upper-body strength, athletic ability and closing speed. Contributing mostly on passing downs, Ansah has tallied 57 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks with eight batted passes. In September, he even blew up a Boise State fake punt attempt by railroading an unsuspecting backup linebacker and wrestling down the upback who had taken a direct snap. Ansah will require simple assignments, but he is just scratching the surface and has developmental value and broad appeal given his dimensions, strength and movement skills that could allow him to play with his hand in the dirt or stand up. He won’t be a sleeper for very long and scouts will be watching the rest of the season to better gauge his ceiling.