With less than a month away from the 2012 NFL Draft we continue to bring you the hot names making the rounds as most Pro Days have concluded across the country. We once again go to our panel of NFL Draft Insiders to see which players at each position are seeing their proverbial "stock" rise by the week. First, the offense...
Quarterback (Eric Galko – Optimum Scouting):
Much was made of the Baylor and Stanford Pro Days taking place on back-to-back days last week, but as expected, bothRobert Griffin III and Andrew Luck had an impressive showing. Griffin displayed his fantastic touch downfield and his development on keeping his ball high and tight, especially across the middle. Luck continued to showcase his fundamentally sound footwork, consistent arm angles, and more velocity than many gave him credit for. Both of the eventual top two picks impressed the many NFL teams in attendance. However, another fairly major quarterback recently had a Pro Day in Arizona's Nick Foles. Foles reportedly struggled to keep a tight spiral and cut the ball down the field through the wind. Foles struggled at the Senior Bowl (and will continue to in the NFL) because he was able to rely on his west coast offense that Arizona which was based on anticipation and timing. In a west coast scheme, Foles could develop into a potential eventual starter. Outside of that, he's a lackluster athlete with a good arm and poor ball placement on his second read as well as outside the hash marks.
Our Take: Luck and Griffin both did more than enough to cement themselves as the top two selections in April's draft last week. Foles had his ups and downs during his time with the Wildcats, however I do respect the toughness and moxie he showed behind an underachieving offensive line as a senior. He surely has some things to work on (including his touch and poise throwing from the pocket), but he's a big kid with a decent arm and the leadership qualities you look for in the quarterback position.
Running Back (Josh Norris – RotoWorld):
Very few compact running backs will become Darren Sproles, but there are two in this draft who have a chance: Utah State's Michael Smith and Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey. Since Smith has previously been discussed, I will focus on Rainey, 5-8, 180. Built like a brick, Rainey sticks to inside runs and flows behind his blockers very well. He seems to pick up every yard that his line creates and is a truly responsible and productive runner. Despite fighting after first contact behind his shoddy offensive line, Rainey would consistently be taken to the ground and is slowed by broken arm tackles. When Rainey was afforded open space, he shined. It is tough to locate a running back of Rainey's small stature, and when Rainey cuts, his core gets even lower, strengthening his base. I love his lateral hop to cut runs outside, which he uses sensibly, but when expecting contact at the line Rainey does briefly hesitate. Rainey is a fluid route runner with patience between the tackles and is not afraid to stick his nose into contact. Behind an offensive line that could create space for him at the second level, Rainey would be an interesting third running back to have on the roster.
Our Take: You can't help but like prospects such as Rainey who is as tough as they come and will do anything you ask of him on the football field despite his diminutive stature. One of the most productive backs in recent memory, Rainey ran for over 4,500 yards in his career and lead the country in carries a year ago while finishing second in rushing-yards-per-game. He's got a versatile skillset, with the vision to run between the hashes and enough speed and quickness to make waves outside the tackle box. Rainey also has very reliable hands, and is savvy as a pass catcher. He may not get drafted, but Rainey will surely be in a camp and will no doubt give everything he's got to make a roster.
Wide Receiver (Sigmund Bloom – Football Guys):
While last week's shows by Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III overshadowed a lot of Pro Day performances, the performance of wide receiver Cody Pearcy should not get lost in the shadows. Despite plying his trade at division-III Huntingdon, Pearcy, 5-10, 161, opened plenty of eyes by running his 40-yard-dash in as fast as 4.31 seconds according to some stopwatches. Couple that performance with an astounding 44-inch vertical, a 6.67-second three-cone time, and a 3.76-second short shuttle that would have been the fastest in recent NFL Scouting combine memory. Pearcy is undersized, which could keep him from getting drafted, but his rare tools put him on the NFL radar. He's now a great candidate for a late pick or as a high-priority free agent after barely registering on the NFL Draft blip before last week.
Our Take: There's no doubt that Pearcy put up a workout for the ages last week in front of NFL teams, displaying quickness, leaping ability, and top-end speed as well as good ballskills in the football drills. While he played at a very low level of competition, he was productive and clearly has the athletic ability to play at the next level as both a wideout and a kick returner, though he will have to prove it in a training camp this summer.
Tight End (Scott Wright – Draft Countdown):
Stanford's Coby Fleener was already considered by many to be the top tight end prospect available for the 2012 NFL Draft and a standout performance at his Pro Day likely solidified that status. After sitting out both the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine with an ankle injury, the 6-6, 247-pound Fleener ran his 40-yard dash n the high-4.4's to low-4.5's depending on the stopwatch and also excelled in positional drills. Those performances were especially impressive given than Fleener is not yet 100 percent healthy. He could head his name called toward the back end of the first round come draft day.
Our Take: Tight ends with Fleener's frame and athleticism are all the rage in today's NFL, which may drive up his draft position when it's all said and done. He's got great ball-skills, can get down the seam, and gets a good release off the line of scrimmage. Fleener was also one of Luck's favorite targets in the Red Zone. Fleener will have to put on a bit more weight and improve his abilities as a blocker, but he has the potential to be a very dangerous target from the tight end position.
Offensive Line (Tony Pauline – SI.com):
The biggest riser on the offensive line is a blocker who was not invited to the Senior Bowl or the NFL Scouting Combine -- Brandon Brooks of Miami (OH). A four-year starter at both guard and tackle, Brooks was ignored by NFL scouts entering the season and dismissed in the post-season despite playing brilliantly as a senior. He's a dominant lineman who easily moves about the field and can destroy opponents at the line of scrimmage or on the second level of the defense. He offers starting potential at the next level in a variety of blocking systems. Expect Brooks to be the first non-combine player selected next month, likely somewhere in the third round.
Small schooler Amini Silatolu is also zipping up draft boards. Teams love his size and upside for the next level, as well as his versatility. They feel Silatolu can line up at either guard position and could play right tackle in a pinch. The Midwestern State product is a terrific blend of size, power, and movement skills and needs only to fine-tune his blocking fundamentals before he breaks into a starting lineup in the NFL.
Our Take: Brooks was one of, if not the biggest, combine 'snubs' in my mind, and he showed during the week at the East-West Shrine Game that he belonged with the big boys. A tough, versatile player who could potentially start early in his career, he is one of my favorite interior line prospects along with Silatolu. Silatolu, a former Nevada-signee, has one of the nastiest demeanors of this offensive line class and he constantly looks to punish the man lining up against him. I would expect both players to come off the board relatively early, maybe as early as the second round, and definitely by the end of the third.