Duke University is known more for what they do on the hardwood rather than the gridiron. But the Blue Devils, even though they’re coming off of a humiliating 27 – 0 defeat to Georgia Tech, have one of the most promising linebackers in the country, Mike Tauiliili. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound Tauiliili has been a tackling machine since his arrival at Duke. Entering this season, he’s started 33 career games and recorded 294 tackles, 33 for a loss. This season, Tauiliili already has 57 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, an interception and two forced fumbles in five games. Tauiliili is a tremendous leader who’s vocal in the locker room and on the field. He’s an instinctive performer that diagnoses the action quickly and is outstanding in pursuit. The one red flag on Tauiliili, not including his small stature, is that before the 2007 season he was suspended for violating team rules and was arrested on gun possession and driving while impaired charges. If Tauiliili continues his stellar performance throughout the season, interviews well with teams at the Scouting Combine and shows that the incident that happened in 2007 is behind him, he could be an early Day Two selection next April.
Prior to the 2008 NFL Draft, Kansas State wide receiver Jordy Nelson wasn’t considered a high round draft pick because of his questionable speed, even though he caught 122 passes for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns during his senior season. But, he proved to scouts at the Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine that he was the real deal and ended up being drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the second round (36th overall).
This year’s version of Nelson resides in Minnesota, in the form of 6-foot-2, 215-pound Eric Decker. Decker is a redshirt junior and will likely remain in school for his senior year, but he’s in the midst of a breakout season that, if it continues, could alter his thinking at the season’s end. Through six games, Decker has amassed 50 catches for 696 yards and four touchdowns, and is coming off of a career game this past weekend against Indiana, where he had 13 receptions for 190 yards. If Decker declared for the ’09 draft after the season, it’s likely that he would be selected in the same vicinity Nelson was last year.
Decker is an underclassman, but if he declares for the '09 draft, he may experience the same fate Jordy Nelson enjoyed last season.
Another underclassman that’s having a breakout year on the opposite side of the ball is Penn State quarterback terror Aaron Maybin. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Maybin lacks ideal size for a defensive end, but he’s emerged as one of the nation’s best pass rushers. Currently a redshirt sophomore, Maybin contributed last season during his freshman year in Happy Valley with 12 tackles, 4.5 for a loss and four sacks. This season, he’s exploded on the scene for the 6 – 0 Nittany Lions and has been a defensive standout recording 23 tackles, nine for a loss and seven sacks. On Saturday, Maybin achieved his seventh sack of the season and played a huge part in Penn State’s 20 – 6 victory over Purdue. He harassed Curtis Painter on many throws he attempted and made things difficult for the highly touted quarterback. It’s a long shot that Maybin decides to enter next year’s draft, but if he does, he will be a late Day One, early Day Two selection.
It’s interesting to see that California has gotten a boost from a player who was basically written off in favor of sophomore Kevin Riley: senior quarterback Nate Longshore led the Bears to a 24 – 14 victory over Arizona State on Saturday; a scenario that occurred many times during his career. Once a highly touted prospect at Cal, Longshore was the starter during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, before losing his job to Riley during spring practice. The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Longshore showed poise in the pocket over the weekend, and although he was erratic at times, he put together a nice game completing 60-percent of his passes for 198 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. In Cal’s last two games, including Saturday’s game, Longshore has thrown for 298 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Head Coach Jeff Tedford stated, “I felt we'd been starting a little bit slow, so I wanted to switch roles a little bit and let Nate have an opportunity to start the game. For all of our games, we haven't started real fast offensively. We've had big runs, but we've missed some plays in the passing game. So I wanted to change it up a little bit and see if we could create a spark." A fire has been ignited, and it remains to be seen which quarterback erupts and which one flames out, but it appears that Longshore has the advantage. The opportunity now exists for Longshore to reestablish himself as an NFL prospect, a distinction that disappeared after the demotion.
An underrated defender that doesn’t receive any attention is Ole Miss free safety Jamarca Sanford. At 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, Sanford is quietly putting together an outstanding season. Sanford isn’t a ballhawk, but he has great instincts and reacts to the action extremely well. In three of Ole Miss’ six games, Sanford has posted double-digit tackle performances (11 against Florida and 13 against Memphis and South Carolina). He currently leads the Rebels in tackles with 56 and is on the verge of eclipsing his 83-tackle total from a year ago. Sanford is also the SEC's current active career leading tackler with 261 stops. Sanford is a player you will want to keep an eye on as the season continues, and he’s a player NFL teams will be interested in during the draft process.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.