Now less than a month away from the 2012 NFL Draft, we continue to bring you the hot names making the rounds as we conclude Pro Days from around 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, with the offense...
Quarterback (Josh Buchanan – JoshBDraft):
Everyone seems to want to mention Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck but there are quarterbacks truly creating waves that 99 percent of those in the draft community don't even know about. I'm going to mention two of them. The first is Lehigh's Chris Lum. No player has worked the all-star game circuit as hard as Lum from a non-FBS school that I can remember since Coastal Carolina's Tyler Thigpen, who ended up a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. Lum, 6-2, 207, lacks the ideal size and doesn't have a big arm, but he is athletic, can move around in the pocket, and has enough of an arm to bring to camp. He was a Walter Payton Award Finalist this year after throwing for 4,378 yards and 32 touchdowns as he won the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week award five times in 2011. Albany's Dan Di Lella was an unknown when he entered the 2011 season but the 6-4, 225-pounder burst onto the scene with a solid arm and the size NFL teams look for to earn first-team All-NEC honors in 2011. He threw for 2,548 yards and 25 touchdowns while completing 59.9 percent of his passes. While both of these guys are likely to be camp bodies, it's still a big improvement from two players who weren't even getting legit NFL looks entering the season.
Our Take: It's always refreshing to hear about some "small school" players who fly under the radar. Both Lum and Di Lella are unlikely to get drafted, but both should end up in camps this summer and vie to make an NFL roster.
Running Back (Matt Alkire – Scouts Notebook):
Cyrus Gray is a highly intriguing player as he is primarily a dynamic threat as a running back, who also catches the ball well and provides value as a very good kick returner. His ability to make the first defender miss in the hole and then get to top speed with very few steps is a big plus. Gray has solid vision and whether he catches the ball or takes a handoff, he makes lightning quick cuts in the open field to juke defenders and almost make them look pedestrian taking him down. The former Aggie doesn't have world-class speed, but he's not far off and is a threat to take the ball to the house on any touch. For teams that run a zone blocking scheme, Gray has very good cut-back ability and if he gets a shred of daylight he's a big play waiting to happen. He does seem to be more comfortable running to the right side of the field which is a bit odd. I do worry about his ability to break tackles and be physical at the NFL level. While he's not a cupcake, there were too many times he was arm tackled or simply hit in the legs and brought down. He'll need to run through those in the league. Values on Gray are all over the place right now. I could see teams that like to pass the ball a lot having as high as low second-round grade on him. Franchises looking for workhorse running backs probably won't value him until the later rounds. It's just a matter how effective he can be in your offense.
Our Take: Gray was highly regarded coming into the season in most circles, but after an above-average senior campaign some question just how good he can be at the next level. He does a lot well, as Matt pointed out, but he wasn't a full-time back as a senior and lost carries to underclassmen. In an offense like the Eagles', where your running backs are asked to do a lot, he could have some value, maybe even as early as the second or third round.
Wide Receiver (Wes Bunting – National Football Post):
Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill has a unique skill set. The receiver who was the star of February's NFL Scouting Combine, Hill can easily pluck the ball off his frame, track the football and is the next big time talent from the Georgia Tech program. Hill is going to need some time to develop, but he can come in and track the football vertically as a deep threat early on. He has a lot of upside to his game and his skill set says he's an NFL starter.
Our Take: There's no doubt that Hill has the skill set to be a star at the next level. Coming out of Georgia Tech's triple-option offensive attack, there just wasn't enough evidence on tape of him being able to transfer his athletic abilities to the football field. Some team will be willing to take a chance on him relatively early, perhaps as early as the latter stages of the first round.
Tight End (Jeff Risdon – RealGM):
Ladarius Green is a lanky prospect who is more of an oversized wide receiver than a tight end. At nearly 6-6, 238, the former Louisiana-Lafayette star is built like a supersized wideout. He played a vast majority of his collegiate snaps as the slot receiver in a four-wide spread formation. Green possesses tremendous strength in his hands, easily snatching the ball from the air even from a quarterback who throws the ball at maximum velocity on every attempt. He is used to making tough catches in traffic and has no fear over the middle. While he lacks great lateral quickness or wiggle, Green has excellent long speed (4.53-second 40-yard-dash at the NFL Scouting Combine) that will allow him to push the seam at the next level. He consistently ran away from trail coverage and demonstrated the ability to grab the ball on a full gallop. Blocking is not his strong suit, though to be fair he was seldom asked to do more than occupy defenders in space. He tends to be very upright and ceases moving his feet after contact, which is also an issue when he faced press coverage. More physical defenders were able to jostle him off his routes. To that end, Green has worked hard at developing more functional upper body strength; at his recent pro day he improved upon his bench press mark in Indianapolis and looked visibly thicker through the shoulders and neck. That will only help him in the NFL, but he will still be best utilized as a motion end or flexed out in the slot. Because of the lower level of play in the Sun Belt and his blocking deficiencies, expect Green to come off the board between the 75th and 100th overall picks. Working in Green's favor is the relatively thin tight end class, which could make Green's name called near the bottom of the second round.
Our Take: Tight ends with Green's athletic ability are highly sought after in the NFL these days, and for that reason he piqued my interest leading up to the week in Mobile. Down at the Senior Bowl, Green was obviously a very natural receiver, but he needed work doing the little things that great tight ends do at the next level. He will have to improve at getting a better release off the line of scrimmage, and will certainly need added reps as a blocker before he can be relied on as a three-down player. Overall, the potential is there and Green likely slots in among the top five or six tight ends in this class, and is a likely third-round selection when it's all said and done.
Offensive Line (Doug Lancy – Draft 101):
Offensive tackle Bobby Massie is a player flying up draft boards right now. He is seen as a player who is ready to step in now as a right tackle at the next level. With his large body (325 pounds) and length (6-6), the former Ole Miss Rebel can stop speed rushers and also open holes in the run game with his strength. Massie is projected to be a second- or early third round pick at this point.
Our Take: Massie is a player who may not be getting talked about too much in the media, but his abilities have not gone un-noticed and he is regarded as one of the top tackles in the draft class by some. While the junior is a bit raw with his technique, he has a lot of in-game experience and even has a chance to be a surprise addition to the latter stages of the first round if there is a run on offensive tackles. He's a talented prospect and should give a team good value at that stage.