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Sunday schooling

Trojans, Wolverines have plenty of NFL prospects; most are underclassmen

January 01, 2007

USC'S RECRUITING CLASSES — USC's recruiting classes -- the players coming in from high school and junior college -- have been rated best in the country three times since 2003. But the professional football prospects on this season's Trojans team are no more numerous than those on Michigan's roster, according to four men who are paid to be experts on the topic. The Times' Sam Farmer recently interviewed four NFL team scouts -- two from each conference -- who opened their notebooks and rated the players from the Rose Bowl teams on the condition of anonymity. Here's what they had to say in a position-by-position breakdown:

Offensive linemen

Most intriguing to scouts are left tackle Sam Baker and center Ryan Kalil of USC, and Michigan left tackle Jake Long. Kalil is the only senior among the three, and juniors Baker and Long -- both projected to be first-round picks if they were to come out this year -- have indicated they plan to stay in school. The scouts agree Kalil, who isn't huge at 6 feet 3, 285 pounds, should go somewhere from the third to fifth round. USC right tackle Kyle Williams is seen as a late-round pick or a free agent.

Scout 1: "Baker's probably the fourth-best tackle in the draft behind [Wisconsin's] Joe Thomas, [Penn State's] Levi Brown and Jake Long. Baker would go in the mid- to late first, but he'd benefit from coming back to school. ... I like his toughness. He's not as athletic as you'd want to see in an NFL left tackle. I see him as a right tackle or guard. But he has size and he's smart."

Scout 2: "My philosophy would be, let [Baker] play left tackle first before you start moving him. When you're taking him that high, let him do what he does. If he's good enough to stay there, he'll stay there."

Scout 3: "Frankly, I was a little disappointed with Baker. ... I guess I was expecting a guy that was a dancing bear in terms of footwork. I still think he'd go in the late first.

Scout 3: "Long's a big latch-on guy who's going to lock you up and you won't go anywhere. He's not a cat in terms of quickness."

Scout 4: "Kalil is an excellent player. The only negative is his size. But for a center, he has everything else you want. He's a leader. The Denver Broncos-type teams, zone-blocking teams like Atlanta, are really going to like him. He plays with leverage and bends his knees. That gives him what he needs to handle bigger guys."


There's some flash and dazzle in this group, particularly with USC's Dwayne Jarrett, a junior who has yet to announce his plans, and Michigan's Mario Manningham, a sophomore who's not eligible for the draft. The scouts agree Jarrett would be a first-round pick, possibly in the top 15, if he were to come out.

Also interesting are USC's Steve Smith and Michigan's Steve Breaston, both seniors. Three of the scouts said Smith should go in the late-second, early-third range and the fourth said he might even go earlier. One scout mentioned senior Chris McFoy, the Trojans' third receiver, and said he has worked his way from a prospective free agent to a possible late-round pick.

Scout 1: "Jarrett's one of the better receivers out there. He's got size (6-5, 215), and has better quickness and athleticism than Mike Williams," who was selected 10th by Detroit in 2005 yet has been a disappointment.

Scout 2: "Manningham's been the difference-maker when he's healthy. He's going to be a good player."

Scout 3: "[Jarrett] is probably a little better than Mike Williams, but there's a question about how competitive he is. He gets up for Notre Dame, but then the next week he'll have one catch for 10 yards. He's a first-round talent, but it's a matter of the light coming on every day." (Jarrett was limited to one catch once this season, against Washington.)

Scout 4: "I love Steve Smith. I don't think he's going to be a numbers guy as far as testing, but when it's third and seven and you need a clutch catch, you're going to that guy. He's maybe the best route runner I've seen this season."

Running backs

Michigan is the team to watch in this department -- specifically 5-9 tailback Mike Hart, who said he's staying for another season. Although Hart's the most intriguing prospect by far, scouts also mentioned Wolverines fullback Obi Oluigbo and Trojans tailback Chauncey Washington. Those two are considered possible late-round picks.

Scout 1: "Hart is more of a third-down back, a guy with quickness, toughness and vision. His size is going to hold him back. He's about a fifth-round choice."

Scout 2: "Hart's not super fast, but he has more speed than you think. ... I think he'll go a little higher than the fifth. He could go as early as the third. You see these smaller backs now -- Maurice Jones-Drew, Leon Washington -- guys with more production than size. He could be one of those."

Scout 3: Hart has "got an edge to him, in a good way. He's a kid that wants the carries. ... The downside is you look at Michigan backs, and none of those guys seem to do much at the next level."


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