Prospect Preview: USC vs Arizona

NEPD Staff Writer: Stephen Sheehan

USC vs Arizona is just one of the nine NCAA games we’re covering this week for NFL Draft scouting purposes, but it is the only one with multiple Top Five potential prospects.

Here is who I’ll be watching:

Matt Barkley, QB, USC

If not for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Barkley would be the top signal caller for 2012. The junior has gotten off to a hot start this year, completing 68 percent of his passes for over 1,100 yards and a 10:3 TD to interception ratio. While he doesn’t have great size (he’s listed at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds) or an elite arm, he has very good accuracy, decision-making skills and intangibles.

Matt Kalil, OT, USC

The Dallas Cowboys used the ninth pick in the 2011 draft to select USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith. Despite his elite athleticism, the league’s youngest offensive lineman didn’t even line up at left tackle in college. The reason? Matt Kalil.

The younger brother of Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil, Matt stands 6-foot-7, 295 pounds and is entering his second year as the starting left tackle. While he needs to add weight at the next level, Kalil is a dominant run blocker yet has the athleticism to make blocks in the second level and protect the quarterback. He looks like a lock for the top-10.

Marc Tyler, RB, USC

Producing NFL running backs has been a tradition at USC. When Tyler arrived as a five-star recruit, he appeared to be well on his way toward becoming the next great back. So far, his production hasn’t matched his hype. The redshirt-senior only carried the ball 41 times over his first two seasons before rushing for 913 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010.

However, he was suspended earlier this year and missed the first game, but has returned with a vengeance. The 230-pounder rushed for 113 yards against Utah and 149 yards against Arizona State. With average to below-average speed and limited production, he only looks like a late-round pick at this point.

Juron Criner, WR, Arizona

Ranked the 167th-best wide receiver by Scout.com when he graduated high school in 2007, Criner certainly didn’t arrive at Arizona with a lot of hype. Four years later, the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder has climbed up the charts.

Criner made a splash as a sophomore, catching 45 passes for 582 yards and nine touchdowns before making a big leap in 2010 with 82 catches, 1,233 yards and 11 TDs. While he doesn’t have elite speed, he runs good routes and uses his size to his advantage. He’s looking like a top-100 pick.

Nick Foles, QB, Arizona

One of the reasons Criner has emerged as one of the top senior receivers is his quarterback. Foles has terrific size (6-foot-5, 240 pounds) and arm strength. The senior has improved his completion percentage every year, and his mark sits at 70.5 percent through four games. The senior has tossed 10 TDs and has yet to throw an interception after throwing 10 last year.

In order for Foles to take the next step, he has to improve his pocket presence and will have to learn to read defenses better.

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