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Saturday Spotlight: Draft Prospects To Watch Week 12

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Jackson Jeffcoat has returned to terrorizing quarterbacks, with seven sacks and 13 pressures in Texas' nine games this season. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.
Jackson Jeffcoat has returned to terrorizing quarterbacks, with seven sacks and 13 pressures in Texas' nine games this season. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

A pass rusher, I was once told, is like a pitcher. He's got to have a fastball, a curve, a changeup, an assortment of pitches he can rely on to get batters out.

That comparison came from someone who should know. Someone taken with the 23rd pick of the first round of the legendary 1983 NFL Draft.  Someone who had 102.5 sacks in his 15-year NFL career.

A member of the Arizona State Hall of Fame, the Fiesta Bowl Hall of Fame. A defensive line coach dating back to 1998, with stints in the NFL and college.

And, by the way, the father of one of the nation's most effective pass rushers.

Jim Jeffcoat.

His success as a player, Jeffcoat once told me, was rooted in his ability to mix up his moves, to set up his blocker for one thing and hit him with another.

Now, Jeffcoat's son, Jackson, stands at the brink of his own NFL career. And, ironically, his pass rush repertoire -- his pitch selection is among the things that scouts might question about his NFL potential.

It's probably not first on their list. Scouts might first wonder about Jackson Jeffcoat's size. He's listed by Texas at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, which makes him a borderline defensive end prospect. Texas' opposite end, Cedric Reed (6-6, 258), looks far more the part of a 4-3 end. More likely, Jeffcoat projects as an outside linebacker, perhaps a better fit as a pass rusher in a 3-4 scheme rather than as a Will or Sam backer in a 4-3, where playing the run and his coverage duties would supercede his rush responsilibities (his primary strength).

NFL teams also have to be slightly concerned about his durability. Jeffcoat lost chunks of time to injury in both 2010 (ankle) and 2012 (ruptured pectoral muscle). He seems to have recovered completely from both, but injury teams will wonder about the toll taken on the body of a player who has spent his college career matched up against bigger, stronger opponents.

Eventually, the evaluation will turn to the question of Jeffcoat's versatility as a pass rusher. His quickness and closing speed seem to be his strongest assets, though the former is better weaponized as an end than a linebacker starting in space in a two-point stance. He has shown a good power burst, too; Jeffcoat strikes first and consistently drives his blocker back a step. But then he seems to have trouble disengaging, particularly from tackles with a definitive reach advantage.

What scouts will like is his motor. Jeffcoat will keep working his way to his target. If the quarterback holds the ball too long, Jeffcoat will find a way to get to him; at least three of his sacks this year were coverage sacks (including both in the Oklahoma game).

And therein lies the quandary about Jackson Jeffcoat. He is undeniably effective as a college playmaker -- in nine games, he has seven sacks, 14 TFL, 13 pressures and three fumble recoveries. But can he be similarly productive at the next level? Can he get guys out in the NFL?

Jeffcoat's not the only prospect riddle scouts will be trying to solve on Saturday, when Texas hosts Oklahoma State. There are at least five other prospects who, like Jeffcoat, potentially could play their way into Day 2 of the draft. 

TEXAS

Quandre Diggs, DB: As Jeffcoat has his father's career as a target to shoot for, Diggs has the 12-year NFL career of his brother, Quentin Jammer, newly minted member of the Longhorns Hall of Honor. Diggs (5-10, 200) is pretty much the same size as Jammer, a consistent, physical presence in the San Diego secondary for his first 11 years in the league. Diggs has eight interceptions and 27 breakups in his three college seasons, and looks to be the kind of corner who would fit a defense that plays primarily zone, where he can provide solid support against the run.

Carrington Byndom, CB: The longer and leaner of the Longhorns' starting corners, Byndom isn't the run-stopper Diggs is nor does he have the same ball skills. He'll likely have trouble against physical receivers at the next level, but he does have the agility and body control to track them through their routes. 

Mike Davis, WR: He's been shockingly unproductive for a guy with such big play potential. Davis has six touchdown receptions on the season -- averaging 34.2 yards per score. But over the past four games, he's made only seven catches (for 190 yards and two TDs). Maybe he's not meshing with Case McCoy, maybe he's just good for a breakout play or two every week. Some team will like that home run potential and spend a third or fourth round pick on him.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Justin Gilbert, CB: It's not hard to predict that Gilbert's stock is going to skyrocket in late February -- right around the time he gets measured and clocked at the combine. He's a long 6-foot, 200 pounds who will probably run a sub-4.5 40. Gilbert's explosiveness is not in question, not by anyone who saw his 100-yard return of the opening kickoff against Kansas (the sixth kickoff return touchdown of his career). What scouts are wondering is what kind of cornerback he'll be. Is Gilbert the playmaker we've seen in 2011 and this season, when he's making plays around the ball more consistently? Or is he the guy who looked disinterested at times in 2012? I suspect this bounce-back season is legit, and that Gilbert would benefit from play in a man-to-man coverage scheme, where he'll constantly be engaged. He'll be the first of this bunch off the board.

Calvin Barnett, DT: The Big 12's Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season is having another solid if understated season. He's making his share of plays across the line of scrimmage (6.5 TFL, two sacks, five hurries). But his value is as a lane plugger and run stuffer. It's yet to be determined what his ideal playing weight is. He was 335 coming out of high school, then reportedly down to 270 by his sophomore season at Navarro Junior College. Barnett's listed at 6-2, 300 this season; depending on where he winds up on the scale, he might find himself being considered as a 3-4 defensive end.