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Pro prospects for BCS title game

Auburn's Cam Newton and Nick Fairley are expected to be high picks. Oregon's best player, LaMichael James, plans to stay in school.

January 04, 2011|By Sam Farmer

Auburn's Cam Newton, Auburn's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, isn't the only pro prospect who will be on the field Monday when the Tigers play Oregon in the Bowl Championship Series title game. Times NFL reporter Sam Farmer spoke to three pro evaluators — Chad Reuter and Rob Rang of CBS/NFLDraftScout.com, and an NFL team scout who spoke anonymously because he's not allowed to share his opinions publicly. They gave their opinions on some of the game's top NFL prospects and where they might be selected in April's draft:

Auburn

Quarterback Cam Newton: Reuter said there will be many comparisons between the 6-foot-6 Newton to Vince Young "because there's really no one else to compare him to," adding he's more of a strider than an explosive, Michael Vick-type runner who makes people miss. Newton has the ability to make on-the-money deep throws and, Reuter said, "isn't a long-delivery guy like Byron Leftwich or Tim Tebow, where his delivery is going to cause him some problems." Projected draft position: Top 10 pick.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley: Rang said Fairley's burst off the snap and ability to penetrate through gaps makes him an ideal fit for the 3-technique: lighter, athletic defensive tackles who typically line up in the gap between the guard and tackle and are expected to get into the backfield and create havoc. The team scout said Fairley "is about as disruptive as you can be as a defensive lineman" and compared him to Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy, who was selected third overall last year. Projected draft position: Top 10 pick.

Left tackle Lee Ziemba: The massive Ziemba (6 feet 8, 319 pounds) is more durable than dominant and will be making his 52nd start. The team scout said his play might not be pretty but it's effective, and sees Ziemba as more of a right tackle in the pros. "If he plays left for you it's going to be ugly, one of those guys you're looking to replace," the scout said. "He's more in that right tackle mode, kind of a big sluggo." Projected draft position: Middle to late round.

Oregon

Running back LaMichael James: Even though the redshirt sophomore plans to stay in school, he's worth keeping an eye on because he's such an exciting player. He's on the small side at 5-9, 190, yet has tremendous speed. "If he can hit the seam, he's gone," Rang said. Projected draft position: Staying in school.

Linebacker Casey Matthews: The brother of Green Bay star Clay Matthews, Casey certainly has the bloodlines to play in the NFL, just as his father, uncle and grandfather did. Reuter said he isn't going to put up the impressive numbers at the scouting combine that Clay did, but he could work himself into a top-100 pick "mostly because there aren't a lot of inside linebackers in this draft." Rang called Matthews "an incredibly instinctive player who's very technically refined." So does it help that he comes from a family steeped in NFL tradition? "Any time you've got some kind of successful lineage," the team scout said, "it can't do anything but help you." Projected draft position: Fourth or fifth round.

Receiver Jeff Maehl: The 6-foot Maehl is a gritty receiver who can make the tough catch over the middle. "He's going to get a chance with the Colts or some team that's willing to put him in the slot just because he's a tough guy," Reuter said. "He's more quick than fast, but he'll find a spot in the league somewhere as a third or fourth receiver." Projected draft position: Fifth through seventh rounds.

Defensive tackle Brandon Bair: The 6-7 Bair "is going to struggle to play inside" in the NFL and, because of his height, is better suited as a pro defensive end, Rang said. Reuter called Bair hard-working and mature — in part because he's older, 26, having spent time on a Mormon mission — but said he's a "fair athlete but nothing special." Projected draft position: Sixth or seventh round.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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