Saturday marks the final home game at Reser Stadium for Oregon State standouts - cornerback Jordan Poyer and wide receiver Markus Wheaton, two of the most productive players at their respective positions in Beavers history.
However, their football journeys won't be completed, even when the stadium clock finally hits zeroes, signifying the end of the game with Nicholls State.
After helping guide the Beavers to a probable six-win turnaround from last season, Poyer and Wheaton are both expected to be chosen in the early-to-mid rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft in late April.
When Oregon State returns to Corvallis in late December from their probable bowl trip to San Antonio (Alamo) or San Diego (Holiday), Poyer and Wheaton will soon shift gears and begin the long four-month buildup to the NFL Draft, which is scheduled for April 25-27, 2013 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
First order of business? The January 26 Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. Both teams are headed by NFL coaches and all practices during the week leading up to the game are attended by hundreds of NFL executives, scouts, personnel directors and coaches, and televised on the NFL Network.
Poyer and Wheaton accepted invitations to the Senior Bowl earlier this month.
For NFL draftniks, Senior Bowl week in Mobile is akin to Mardi Gras.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Poyer is rated by CBSSports.com as the 41st best prospect available for the 2013 NFL Draft, and the fifth best cornerback available. His current ranking means he is projected by some scouts as second-round pick.
Well-known NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper has kept Poyer, who will make his 23rd career start on Saturday, high on his board all season.
And for good reason. Poyer's six interceptions this season ranks fourth in the NCAA and puts him in a sixth-place tie for career interceptions at OSU with 12. He is one of 15 finalists for the Jim Thorpe and Bednarik Awards, and has earned a well-deserved reputation as a lockdown corner.
Poyer has also served as Oregon State's top punt returner, averaging 5.6 yards per return. His versatility should bode well for him in the NFL.
"Jordan Poyer is a player I've been pretty high on throughout his career," Kiper told BeaverBlitz.com during a recent conference call. "When you look at him with his return ability and the ability to help out on special teams, he's a kid that could go in the second or third round. He has a chance to really help a NFL team and do a good job for them. I like him and I like how he provides versatility.
"I've maintained a pretty solid grade on Poyer throughout. I think he's a good player."
Poyer was selected Wednesday to the prestigious American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) First Team All-America squad, becoming the first OSU player to earn a spot on the AFCA First Team since offensive tackle Andy Levitre in 2008.
Earlier this week, Poyer was selected one of four Beavers to the Pac-12 Conference First Team, joining Wheaton, defensive end Scott Crichton and special teams standout Jordan Jenkins.
Wheaton is rated by CBSSports.com at No. 131 overall, which projects him into the middle of the fourth round, and the 17th best wide receiver.
Wheaton has proven to be reliable (34 straight games with a reception, longest streak in the Pac-12) and durable (Saturday will be his 32nd career start, 29th straight) throughout a career that sees him third on Oregon State's career receiving yards list (2,834) and fourth in career receptions (212). He is also tied for sixth in touchdown receptions (15).
This season, Wheaton leads the Beavers with 76 receptions for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns. Kiper has Wheaton rated among his top five senior receivers.
"For the most part, Wheaton has been very consistent," Kiper said. "He's a fast, electrifying player. Along with Brandin Cooks, he's part of one of the best wide receivers duos in the country. Wheaton has a chance to be in the second round discussion. He should test out very well. He's had a nice year overall. I think he has a pretty solid future in the NFL ahead."
Duane Brugler of CBSSports.com and NFLDraftScout.com concurs with Kiper's assessment of Wheaton: "He is the type of prospect who grows on you each time you see him. I bet a few teams will have a top-100 grade on him."
Because of his speed, Wheaton is a threat to rack up significant yards after catch (YAC) every time he catches the ball in space. So far this season, Wheaton is averaging 36.5 yards after catch per game.
Wheaton (1,084 yards) and Cooks (1,113) are the first two OSU receivers to reach 1,000 yards in the same season since James Newson and Mike Hass in 2003.
"Markus is a great example of growth," OSU coach Mike Riley said Monday. "He has always been extremely talented and very good. He didn't redshirt. Because of his character, he didn't stop there with the talent. He grew as a player and a person and he embraced college like I hope all the guys would. He has done it all. I'm very proud of him."
When Senior Bowl week concludes in late January, Poyer and Wheaton will probably start an intense month-long training program at an elite athletic facility somewhere in the United States in anticipation of the NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis from February 20-26, 2013.
Typically, the location where an athlete prepares for the NFL Combine and then the Draft on a daily basis is based on which agent he signs with.
After the Combine, the duo should continue training for Oregon State's Pro Timing Day when scouts from most NFL clubs show up in Corvallis with stopwatches in hand.
Since Poyer and Wheaton are expected to be drafted by the end of the third or fourth round, the number of scouts attending Pro Day this year could be larger than normal.
Once Pro Timing Day is over, the countdown to the 2013 NFL Draft begins for Poyer and Wheaton.
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