YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Next-level Playing Field

The Coliseum will be teeming with pro prospects when the intracity rivals meet Saturday, but most of them, NFL scouts say, will be suiting up for the Trojans

November 27, 2005|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

They debate the merits of NFL prospects not in chat rooms, but in what they call "war rooms." They carry clipboards, stopwatches and the knowledge that multimillion-dollar decisions hinge on their observations. They spend countless hours on the road, attending college football games and practices, breaking down tape, quizzing coaches, collecting clues -- anything that might give their team an edge.

They are NFL scouts, paid to judge players. And they'll be watching closely Saturday when No. 1 USC plays No. 11 UCLA at the Coliseum in a game featuring more than a dozen soon-to-be professionals.

At The Times' request, three NFL scouts opened their books and anonymously gave their opinions on which players have dreamy futures in the league, and which ones are simply dreaming.

Although the Bruins could pull off an upset Saturday, the Trojans won the NFL scouts' position-by-position analysis in a blowout.

* Quarterback: Despite Drew Olson's 30-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the choice in a landslide was USC's Matt Leinart, who has long been considered a top-three pick.

Scout 1: "I think he's a left-handed Tom Brady. Carson Palmer had all of the physical attributes, and Leinart isn't in that category. But makes up for it mentally."

As for Olson, who is expected to be taken on the draft's second day: "He's more of a very good college quarterback having a great year."

Scout 2: "Leinart in the Notre Dame game was him in a nutshell. He didn't play great the whole game through, and he made some throws that you're thinking, 'Wow, what was he thinking?' But with the game on the line, making that audible at the end -- just the guts, the charisma. He has the 'it' factor."

Scout 3: "He's a dynamic person, a dynamic leader that guys really respond to. I was standing behind him during pat-and-go [warmups] at the Washington State game. Just watching him, with that band playing, you get the chills. He's just got that air of quiet leadership."

* Running back: Reggie Bush ran away from this field the way he ran away from Notre Dame and Fresno State. Each of the scouts said the Trojan junior is likely to be the top pick in the draft because, unlike a quarterback who will have to sit and learn, he can make an instant impact.

Scout 1: "He's the best I've ever scouted. He's not the perfect size. But ... he's a rare, rare player. He's a faster Marshall Faulk.

Scout 2: "He's so fun to watch that you get caught up in watching him and not scouting. I've talked to other scouts, and the only [running backs] they said compared to this guy were Barry Sanders and Bo Jackson. With those guys, you just knew what they were going to do as soon as they got to the NFL. Same with Bush."

Scout 3: "Even at his size, he can move piles. There can be nothing there. He can still hit it up in there, slither through traffic and get three, four yards. We call that 'in-line' yardage. There's not going to be a lane every time. You've got to get those yards. That's why you have those 230-pound backs. That's usually what size does for you. This guy can do that and he can do the breakaway stuff."

A fairer comparison, the scouts said, would be between USC's LenDale White and UCLA's Maurice Drew, although White, at 6-2, 235 pounds, is significantly bigger than the 5-8, 205-pound Drew. Scout 2 said Drew would be "a very good second back and an OK No. 1 back," who might make his mark in the NFL as a return man and/or a third-down back.

Scout 2 saw White as a second-round pick, "a between-the-tackles guy with average open-field speed. He's a great short-yardage back, and he showed some burst against Notre Dame. It wasn't great, but it was good."

Asked if White, a junior, might benefit from staying an extra year at USC, Scout 3 said: "It certainly wouldn't hurt him to stay in, but we've seen enough of him to know who he is."

* Tight end: UCLA earned its only unanimous edge, with the scouts favoring Marcedes Lewis over Dominique Byrd. Lewis' stock has climbed this season, the scouts said, because he has improved dramatically as a blocker.

Scout 1: "[Lewis] doesn't time very fast, but he plays fast. He has excellent size, outstanding hands and body control."

Scout 2: "Byrd might be a little more athletic out of his breaks, out of his cuts, but as far as size, work ethic and blocking, Marcedes separates from the pack. He's shown more intensity blocking this year. That's moved him from that second-round area to late first."

Scout 3: "You want the complete guy, especially if you're going to take him high. You've got to run the ball. And if you have to sub him out on the run plays, you're tipping people off. I see Lewis going at the top of the second, maybe late first. ... With Byrd, something's missing. ... He's a solid middle-round guy."

Los Angeles Times Articles