HOT: All-Riser Team
HOT: All-Riser Team
1. Dennis Dixon, QB, Oregon - Stock
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #10 QB, Overall #138, Compiled Projected Round(s): 4-5
Dixon went from a late-round or free agent "project" to a potential late 2nd or 3rd-round selection this season. His coach, Mike Bellotti, questioned his playing minor league baseball during the summer of 2007. In the end, however, that may have proved a very valuable move. Dixon's maturity and decision-making improved greatly in his final season; only a torn left ACL cost him a chance at the Heisman and a national championship. His statistics through ten games: 67.7% passes completed, 20 TD vs. 4 INT, 2,136 passing yards, 583 rushing yards. Certainly he has a way to go before leading a NFL offense, but his size, arm, and poise are just what pro coaches want to see. NFL teams will also have to take into consideration Dixon's wishes to play baseball, even if he did bat only .176 as an outfielder in Atlanta's system last summer.
2. Matt Forte, RB, Tulane
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #12 RB, Overall #135, Compiled Projected Round(s): 4-5
Forte was on NFL radars as a late-round pick before the season began, even if most college football fans weren't familiar with him. Only a knee injury late in 2006 kept him from hitting 1,000 yards and he was among the best backs in Conference USA…but no one expected the type of season Forte put together. He's only 181 yards short of a new single-season rushing mark going into his bowl game, although Barry Sanders put up his 2,628 yards in fewer games. He is not a speed demon, but his size and strength allow him to pound defenses into submission.
3. Louis Rankin, RB, Washington
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #32 RB, Overall #525, Compiled Projected Round(s):
He had the size and speed NFL teams covet coming into the year, but hadn't put together a complete season until 2007. His 1,294 yards this season was more than he had in the previous three years combined. Two 200+ yard performances against Stanford and Cal put him into the national headlines. His uncle, former NFL WR Webster Slaughter, now may be able to watch Rankin join that fraternity.
4. Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas State - Stock
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #19 WR, Overall #143, Compiled Projected Round(s): 4-5
Nelson is second in the country in catches (122) and receiving yardage (1606) only to Biletnikof winning Texas Tech freshman Michael Crabtree. Add two punt return touchdowns to his 11 receiving, and Nelson proved himself worthy of a mid-round pick in April's draft after a disappointing injury-filled junior season. His average timed speed will hurt him in post-season workouts, but he seemed able to outpace cornerbacks when necessary this season, leading to speculation that Nelson was still injured when running for scouts last year. Regardless of his final forty time, teams should remember larger, "slow" WR like Anquan Boldin can still make an impact. By the way, this high school all-star quarterback didn't even play his freshman year as a reserve defensive back.
5. Lavelle Hawkins, WR, California
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #16 WR, Overall #126, Compiled Projected Round(s): 4
The success of smaller, wiry receivers in today's NFL could help Hawkins land in the late 2nd to early 3rd round. More than just a complement to DeSean Jackson, Hawkin's speed and hands are perfect for any offense wishing to move the chains downfield and get yards after the catch. He is Cal's leading receiver with 69 for 855 yards and five touchdowns. His work on kickoff returns in '07 also helped his draft stock (22 per attempt, 1 TD).
6. Martin Rucker, TE, Missouri - Stock
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #2 TE, Overall #37, Compiled Projected Round(s): 2
Despite his production in Missouri's offense, Rucker was pegged as a mid-to-late round pick by NFL teams before the season. This year Rucker showed more explosiveness and versatility in helping Missouri reach the Big 12 championship game. He finds holes in zones and can stretch the field with his length and hands despite not having track speed. Rucker plays basically like a receiver in the Tigers' spread offense, but should be able to handle blocking responsibilities on the edge in the NFL.
7. Mike Pollak, C, Arizona State
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #2 C, Overall #63, Compiled Projected Round(s): 2-3
Ranked in the top 10 centers in the country in August, Pollak ranks in the top two or three at this point of the draft process. He moved past other pivot men this season by showing he has the strength to hold his ground, as well as good athleticism and hand placement.
8. Robert Felton, OG, Arkansas
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #4 OG, Overall #103, Compiled Projected Round(s): 3-4
Although Felton has started since the middle of his freshman year for the Razorbacks, he took a step forward in 2007 with center Jonathan Luigs and guard Mitch Petrus in making on the of most physical interior lines in the country. The versatile Felton has played all five positions along the line, although he fits primarily at the right guard spot for a power running team.
9. Donald Thomas, OG, Connecticut
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #6 OG, Overall #139, Compiled Projected Round(s): 4-5
One of the strongest, most athletic offensive guards in the country started to make good on his promise this season for UConn. A bit raw still, after spending his high school years on the defensive line and starting only one game in his first two seasons. His maturity was also in question after a suspension for an off-field incident in 2006. But Thomas seemed to put it all together as a senior, whether moving his defender or pulling to help in the Huskies' strong running attack or anchoring against oncoming pass rushers.
10. Carl Nicks, OT, Nebraska
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #7 OT, Overall #50, Compiled Projected Round(s): 2
Nicks came to Nebraska after getting JUCO All-American accolades, but couldn't get on the field as much as he would have liked in 2006 because of nagging injuries. This year, however, Nicks played a very solid left tackle for the Huskers. Even though he's a big body, Nicks' footwork and hand positioning was very good most times in pass protection. And most 240-pound defensive ends had no shot against him in the run game; his girth and strength allows him to seal the edge effectively.
11. Oniel Cousins, OT, Texas-El Paso
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #9 OT, Overall #76, Compiled Projected Round(s): 2-3
Benched after eight games at left tackle in 2006, Cousins came into this season as an athletic but inconsistent converted defensive lineman. He may end up inside in the NFL, but his play at LT this season has raised eyebrows. Sure in pass protection, Cousins uses his long arms to keep defensive ends at bay. His old defensive ways still come through at times, he has no problem putting his guy to the turf or playing through the whistle.
12. Charles Godfrey, CB, Iowa
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #12 CB, Overall #102, Compiled Projected Round(s): 3-4
Another potential-turning-into-production guy, Godfrey's always been aggressive and had great speed (could run sub-4.4 this spring). It appears he really started to get how to play the cornerback position in his second year as a starter. His five interceptions and nine passes broken up showed how his ability to play the ball improved.
13. Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #5 CB, Overall #40, Compiled Projected Round(s): 2
McKelvin jumped from a mid-round prospect to a potential 2nd rounder with his play on defense and special teams in 2007. He was a very good return man for his first three years, totaling more than 2,700 yards on punts and kickoffs, including five touchdowns. This year he kicked it up a notch with three more punt return TDs, putting his total PR TD to seven, and 765 more yards on kickoff returns. But his play as a cornerback has improved over the past two years, as well. His ability to read the quarterback, willingness to support against the run, ball skills, and pure athleticism will give a NFL secondary coach a lot to work with.
14. Matthew Harper, FS, Oregon
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #20 FS, Overall #362, Compiled Projected Round(s):
After waiting his turn behind J.D. Nelson as a JUCO transfer as a junior in 2006, Harper made the most of his opportunity this season. He won't be a high draft pick because of his lack of size and average speed, but Harper's production (93 tackles, three INT, 8 PBU) and leadership won't go unnoticed. His work on special teams over the past two seasons won't, either.
15. Thomas DeCoud, FS, California
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #8 FS, Overall #149, Compiled Projected Round(s): 4-5
His coming-out party could have happened in 2006 had it not been for a early-season knee injury (he had 27 tackles in the team's first four games). In a weak year for safeties, DeCoud jumped up the draft board with an All-Pac 10 season: 106 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 INT, 2 forced fumbles. He has the size, speed, and solid tackling ability teams are looking for in the ever-popular combination safety. The six blocked kicks early in his career may also draw the interest of NFL special teams' coaches.
16. Darrell Robertson, DE, Georgia Tech
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #8 DE, Overall #75, Compiled Projected Round(s): 2-3
This tall and lean rush end continued the improvement he showed during his junior season with an second team All-ACC senior campaign (16 TFL, 6.5 sacks). In a senior class that is only three-four quality players deep in defensive ends, Robertson picked an opportune time to turn his game on. NFL scouts like his long strides and arms on the pass rush. He's also willing and able to chase ball-carriers down the line and downfield. Probably not a three-down lineman right away, his body could take on another 15-20 pounds without his losing a lot of speed.
17. Jonal Saint-Dic, OLB, Michigan State
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #47 OLB, Overall #568, Compiled Projected Round(s):
There is no one in the country whose stock has risen more than Saint-Dic's through his senior year. He showed flashes when starting the last four games of '06, but few expected the dominance the native Haitian displayed early in the season. He earned the moniker "The Sackmaster" due to his relentlessness (10.5 sacks). Saint-Dic also forced an unheard of eight forced fumbles. NFL teams will likely try him out at linebacker because of his lack of height, but some team may see an Elvis Dumervil-type pass rush end in the making. No matter where he plays, Saint-Dic has gone from potential free agent to potential top 100 selection with his play this year.
18. Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #3 DT, Overall #35, Compiled Projected Round(s): 1-2
If anyone else can stake a claim to the nation's "fastest riser", it's Balmer. He's gone from underachieving late-round prospect to potential top 75 pick after turning in a second team All-ACC season with 59 tackles, 9.5 for loss, and 3.5 sacks from inside. Even though he's tall and not the 350 pounder, Balmer will play on the nose in the NFL because he does a nice job holding up double-teams and pushing guards back into the pocket. Some scouts may worry about him being a "one-year wonder" who hasn't always put forth maximum effort…that could cost him draft position.
19. Frank Okam, DT, Texas - Stock
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #9 DT, Overall #116, Compiled Projected Round(s): 4
As a sophomore, Okam flashed as a run-clogger and pocket compressor. In 2006, however, he did not meet expectations and many scouts wrote him off as an underachiever. But he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the off-season and it seemed to work wonders; his 2007 play was much improved, possibly good enough to move him into the top 50. The 2nd team All-Big 12 selection put up 10 TFL, five sacks and 16 hurries.
20. Spencer Larsen, ILB, Arizona
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #9 ILB, Overall #183, Compiled Projected Round(s): 5-6
Larsen was a solid player as a junior, gaining second team All-Pac 10 honors. But he took his game to another level in 2007, getting on the first team with his 131 tackles (81 solo) including 15.5 for loss and three forced fumbles. Now he's likely to be picked in the third or early fourth round, rather than the fifth to sixth. That might not sound like a big difference, but it could add up to an extra $500,000 in signing bonus money. He won't test like a track athlete, but teams sticking to their film study know he's a heady player who gives constant effort and attacks ball-carriers with a vengeance. Larsen should be versatile enough to compete for a starting spot at any linebacker position.
21. Robert James, OLB, Arizona State
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #29 OLB, Overall #348, Compiled Projected Round(s):
The starting weak side linebacker was not on the radar before the season began, but quickly got there with 19.5 tackles in his first two games of '07. On his way to the first team All-Pac 10 team, James collected 99 tackles, eight for loss, and four interceptions. He won't be a high draft pick because of his size, but he used his speed and relentlessness to get into scouts' conversations.
22. Tavares Gooden, ILB, Miami
Current Rating: 2008 Draft Scout #5 ILB, Overall #83, Compiled Projected Round(s): 3
The move from outside to inside linebacker for his senior year may make Gooden much wealthier come draft time. Instead of an average outside guy picked in the mid-rounds, he's now seen as a very quick and athletic Tampa-2 mike 'backer who can attack the run inside and get back to cover the middle third. In other words, barring a major faux pas during the Combine or other workouts it will be surprising if he lasts outside the second round.