Scouts from 20 NFL teams have watched University of Toledo tailback Chester Taylor perform this season, either in a game or at practice.
One scout predicts that Taylor could be “a mid-round pick” in next April's draft, which covers seven rounds and 211 players.
NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. thinks Taylor could be drafted even higher.
“You have to applaud Taylor,” Kiper said recently during a chat on his ESPN.com web site. “He has been a great player in the Mid-American Conference. He has done the job against virtually every opponent.
“Taylor will have a chance to play in the NFL. He may go in the second to third-round area. That's the best-case scenario, depending on how he performs at the postseason all-star games.
“In evaluating the NFL draft, he could be among the top five running backs by the end of the year.”
Taylor, who needs 294 yards to become the Rockets' all-time leading rusher, sprained his right ankle against Ohio last weekend and missed 21/2 quarters. But he is expected to be back in the starting lineup when the 5-0 Rockets resume MAC play at Ball State on Oct. 20.
Taylor, 5-11 and 205 pounds, ranks second in the country in scoring, averaging 18 points per game on 13 rushing touchdowns and two receiving. He is 11th in rushing with a 126.2 average.
Yet Kiper thinks Taylor is a longshot to be among the five players invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation in December.
“He's not in the top five now because Toledo, while having a great year with a chance to go to a bowl game, won't be good enough to help him win a Heisman Trophy,” Kiper said.
A few NFL scouts have expressed concern about Taylor's size and speed - his best 40-time is a 4.49, clocked two years ago - but none question his toughness.
“He has a few flaws, but not many,” said one scout, who spoke only on the condition that he not be identified. “He is a hard runner who breaks a lot of long runs. He has pretty good hands and can catch the ball decent out of the backfield. He won't be a star in the NFL, but I think he could be a pretty productive running back.”
Taylor, who has compiled 20 100-plus-yard games in his career, ranks second on the MAC's career touchdown list with 52.
He has gained 631 yards on 107 carries this year, an average of 5.9 yards per carry. He also has 11 receptions for 114 yards (10.4 average) while helping UT to a No. 23 ranking in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.
“I'm pretty sure it is any college football player's dream to play in the NFL; I know it is my dream,” Taylor said. “Right now I'm just trying to focus on this season and the rest of our games.”
UT coach Tom Amstutz has no doubts that Taylor will be playing in the NFL next season.
“Chester is going to be playing in at least two college all-star games - the Hula Bowl for sure, then either the Senior Bowl or the East-West Shrine Bowl - so I know he will get drafted,” Amstutz said. “This kid can play.”
OHIO/BRINKER: Chad Brinker, Ohio's leading rusher this season, will miss the rest of the season because of an arachnoid cyst. The arachnoid is the space between the inside of the skull and the brain.
Officials said Brinker's future as a player is uncertain, but that his overall prognosis is excellent.
Brinker has gained 393 yards for an average of 98.2 yards per game, ranking him fifth in the Mid-American Conference in rushing this year.
AKRON/PAYNE: Akron running back Brandon Payne suffered a season-ending knee injury in Saturday's loss at Western Michigan. He had rushed for 498 yards and six touchdowns in the Zips' first five games.
NOTRE DAME/REGO: A West Virginia football player expelled from Notre Dame in a rape case and barred from the campus plans to be with the team when it plays in South Bend on Saturday.
West Virginia officials said yesterday that tailback Cooper Rego would be on the Notre Dame campus with the rest of the Mountaineers.
They said the ban did not apply in this case because Rego was returning as part of a team. Notre Dame officials declined comment on whether they would oppose Rego's return.