NFL draft watch: Scouts eyeing several Cougs

<b><i>OT Calvin Armstrong

<B>THE NFL DRAFT is a week away, which means the cottage industry built around speculation and mock drafts is now at a fever pitch. A recent sampling of the mountain of information out there paints a favorable picture for the handful of Cougars who are eligible to be taken, with Calvin Armstrong the odds-on-favorite to be the first Washington State product to have his name called come April 23-24.

General consensus among prognosticators is that Armstrong, the Pride of Centralia, is one of the dozen top offensive tackles available. That should slot him to go in the late third round or early fourth --- though The Sporting News forecasts him going in the sixth round to Baltimore.

His size (6-7, 320), foot work, quickness off the snap and excellent pass-protection skills are what scouts like most about him. The folks at NFLexperts.com say the two-time first-team All-Pac-10 choice "possesses the abilities to play at the next level yet must step up the intensity and physical nature of his game."

Linemate Sam Lightbody (6-9, 321), whose off-season was marred by thumb surgery, is rated by most services somewhere between No. 19 and No. 28 among offensive tackles. That would probably make him a sixth or seventh round pick. The Sporting News is slotting him to go in the sixth to the Patriots.

NFLexperts.com calls him a "king-sized offensive lineman with the tools needed to become a strong side blocker at the next level. Bends his knees, patient and works to stay square. Lightbody must add muscle to his frame and improve his run blocking skills to become a complete lineman. Enticing prospect because of his measurables and coming off a good combine showing."

In the secondary, two Cougars have done nothing but increase their stock this off-season with solid Pro Day and NFL Combine showings. Safety Hamza Abdullah (6-3, 214) and cornerback Karl Paymah (6-0, 204) are both considered top 25 picks at their respective positions. That could see them go as high as the fourth or fifth rounds.

The Sporting News forecasts Paymah going to the Bears in the fifth and Abdullah to the Eagles in the seventh.

"A size/speed prospect who plays a physical style of defense, Abdullah offers good upside for the next level, yet needs a lot more experience and repetition. Worth the investment of a late round choice and a prospect that can produce on special teams as he develops his secondary skills," writes NFLexperts.com.

Abdullah's 40 times in various winter tryouts were outstanding, ranging from 4.45 to 4.6.

Of Paymah, the folks at NFLdraftcountdown.com, write that he "has good size and a very solid build...Smart player...Shows good technique...Very aware in coverage...Physical player who isn't afraid to hit...Good tackler who will help against the run...Speed is lacking … Has good physical tools if you can overlook the speed...Could really excel in the right scheme and might fit in best with a team like Tampa Bay or Indianapolis."

In addition to those four, Cougar running back Chris Bruhn, (6-4, 224) safety Jeremy Bohannon (5-10, 206) and linebacker Pat Bennett (6-0, 231) could be in line to land free agent tryouts.

Earlier this year when scouts came to Pullman to put the Cougar seniors through various drills, Bohannon acquitted himself well. He ran between 4.48 and 4.52 in the 40, registered a vertical of 37.5 inches and did 11 reps at 225 pounds. Bennett ran between 4.72 and 4.77 in the 40, posted 32.5 in the vertical and did 17 reps of 225 pounds.

Bruhn, though, could be the most interesting one to watch. He's got the size, speed (between 4.51 and 4.55 in official tryouts) and history of sterling accomplishment in high school and junior college. He was slowed by a knee injury much of this past season and, in his first year for the Cougars in 2003, averaged 4.5 yards on 78 carries despite playing with a hernia and tweaked ankle.

Says NewOrleansProFootball.com, "(Bruhn) has yet to play up to his potential ... can be more of finesse runner despite his ideal size/speed combination ... type of kid that could be a much better pro than college performer ... has a lot of raw, natural ability."

IN OTHER NFL NEWS, The Sporting News this week stood up in praise of 2001 WSU All-American Lamont Thompson. "It will be an upset if safety Lamont Thompson isn't in the Titans' starting lineup (in 2005)," TSN wrote of the former second-round pick of the Bengals. Noting that he began 2004 at No. 3 on the depth chart and then came on like gangbusters as the season progressed, they lauded his grasp of the defense and versatility, concluding that "he has too much talent not to be on the field full time."

And speaking of former star Cougar defense backs, there was an eye-popping news item a month ago about NFL rookies making the league minimum who received a chunk of the new supplemental performance bonus pool created by the NFL and the NFL Players Association. Turns out Erik Coleman, a fifth round draft pick last spring who started every game for the Jets this past season, got the biggest bonus of any rookie in the league: $227,625. The bonuses are based on comparisons of playing time to salary. The next-highest recipient on the list received $50,000 less than Coleman.

Coleman wasn't the only Cougar from Spokane who had his name lined up next to $$$ signs this off season. So did Steve Gleason and Cory Withrow, both standouts on WSU's 1998 Rose Bowl team.

Gleason signed a three-year deal to remain with the Saints. Terms were not disclosed, but speculators estimated somewhere north of $400,000 per year. Over the last four seasons he has become one of the finest special team performers in the league and a solid back up safety.

Withrow re-signed with the Vikings after being release a month earlier for salary-cap reasons. His deal is for one year at $540,000. Withrow started a career-high five games last season.

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