Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill
Since the end of the college football season, the stocks of many draft prospects have risen and fallen based upon their performances in postseason All-Star weeks in the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, and at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.
Players such as Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, South Carolina defensive end Melvin Ingram, Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe and Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox are all players whose stocks have been rising consistently, with all four of those players now all in great position to be first-round draft picks.
That said, there are still seven weeks remaining until the 2012 NFL draft, and with most pro days still waiting on the schedule, there is time for players to make one last big impression and move their stock well up the draft board.
These are 10 players whose stock you should keep an eye on in the weeks leading up to the draft.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 108
Current Grade: Round 4
This draft class is loaded with offensive talent at the top, with six offensive linemen ranking among my top 19 overall prospects for the 2012 NFL draft. Four of those players—USC’s Matt Kalil, Stanford’s Jonathan Martin, Iowa’s Riley Reiff and Ohio State’s Mike Adams—all have the potential to be franchise starters at left tackle.
However, while there is great talent at the top, there is a major drop-off at the offensive tackle position, with no other offensive tackles receiving a grade in Round 2 or 3. That said, there will be teams looking for offensive tackles in those rounds, meaning at least one offensive lineman from the fourth-round group is bound to rise.
That riser could be Florida State’s Andrew Datko. Two years ago, Datko looked like he was on track to be a potential first-round draft pick as a very good left tackle prospect, but he missed most of last season due to shoulder injuries, a problem that has plagued him over the years.
Datko’s injury issues are a serious concern, but of any of the non-first-round offensive tackle prospects, Datko has the most talent and upside and has developmental potential to be a starting left tackle if he can remain healthy.
Datko must be able to prove to an NFL team that his shoulder will not be a major concern going forward and must do well at Florida State’s pro day on March 14 after missing his entire season. If he can do that, it is plausible he could rise up into Round 2 or 3 to a team in need of a left tackle that misses out on the top group.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 74
Current Grade: Round 3 or 4
While most eyes will be on Andrew Luck’s throwing session at Stanford’s pro day, the real reason to watch that session is to evaluate the receivers he will be throwing to in tight end Coby Fleener and wide receiver Chris Owusu.
With Peyton Manning to be released by the Colts, Luck is all but assured of being the No. 1 overall draft pick, and his pro day performance is not going to change that.
That said, Fleener is a player who could really catch the eye of scouts at Stanford’s pro day on March 22. Fleener was unable to participate in the on-field drills at the combine due to an ankle injury, but he did put up an impressive mark of 27 repetitions in the bench press and has great size at 6'6" and 247 pounds.
With Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen disappointing athletically at the combine and Georgia tight end Orson Charles disappointing at both the combine and his pro day, the door is open for Fleener to make a big move and potentially be the first tight end drafted. Fleener is a talented pass-catcher, and if he can display more athleticism than Allen and Charles did in their workouts, he has a chance to work his way up into the early second round.
In my opinion, Fleener is a solid tight end but an overrated product of Andrew Luck’s success. That said, although Allen and Charles appear much more athletic than Fleener on tape, he could make a big statement if he puts up better athletic measurables than they did and looks good in the pass-catching drills.
Chris Owusu did not make this list, but keep an eye on his performance at Stanford’s pro day as well. Owusu turned heads by running a blazing 4.36-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He has a scary history of concussions and other injuries that have really limited his productivity at Stanford, so he remains unlikely to be drafted, but he could make his case with another great performance at his pro day.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 29
Current Grade: Round 2
Current Mock Draft Position: No. 22 to Cleveland Browns
There may not be considerable room for Baylor’s Kendall Wright to move up the draft board, but his stock has taken a hit since the combine, leaving him with a major point to prove when he works out alongside Robert Griffin III at Baylor’s pro day on March 21.
Kendall Wright’s 40-yard dash time has become the controversy of the combine. His time was officially recorded as a 4.61 second 40-yard dash, although the consensus of hand times (including my own using NFL.com combine footage) had him in the 4.4-second range. At his pro day, Wright will try to run an even faster time and prove once and for all that he has great speed, not the 4.61 he has been (most likely inaccurately) burdened with.
While Wright came away from the combine with controversy, two other receivers, Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, are bigger, stronger receivers who ran tremendous times in the 40-yard dash and stood out in position drills. As a result, their stocks have been on the rise, while Wright’s has been in decline, a combination which is hurting Wright’s draft stock.
Wright failed to stand out as he was expected to at the combine, but if he can do so at his pro day, he can work his grade up into the late first-round range and could move his stock back up ahead of Floyd.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 37
Current Grade: Round 2
An underrated prospect at the wide receiver position who has great talent but has not been receiving much hype of late is Wisconsin’s Nick Toon.
Toon ranks fifth among my wide receiver rankings, not far behind Notre Dame’s Michael Floyd and Baylor’s Kendall Wright on the grading scale and ahead of Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill. However, while all three of those players are projected to be first-round draft selections, Toon has received almost no attention as a potential first-round draft pick.
Toon did run the 40-yard dash at the combine but did not participate in positional drills due to a foot injury. At Wisconsin’s pro day today (March 7), Toon has the opportunity to participate in a full repertoire of pass-catching drills and have his attempt to make a statement that he should be in the first-round mix of wide receivers.
The big knock on Toon that is currently keeping him out of the first-round discussion is that his productivity was inconsistent during his years at Wisconsin. Toon needs a good workout where he consistently catches the football to calm some of those qualms, and that could help him at least establish himself as an early second-round draft pick.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 147
Current Grade: Round 5
Robert Turbin is a draft prospect on the rise. Turbin is coming off a tremendous combine performance where he ran an impressive time of 4.50 seconds in the 40-yard dash and put up impressive marks of 36" in the vertical jump and 10'2" in the broad jump, all great marks for a 222-pound running back.
Turbin is a player who has really flown under the radar and a player whom I need to watch more tape on to determine whether he deserves a better grade from my evaluations. After missing the entire 2010 season with injury, Turbin bounced back with a very impressive 2011 season in which he ran for 1,517 yards.
Turbin is an absolutely ripped athlete, as the picture shows, but most eyes were likely focused elsewhere during the combine. For scouts in attendance at the Utah State pro day, most eyes will be focused on him, especially with linebacker Bobby Wagner being sidelined with an injury.
Turbin is a player who could really work his way up the board if a team likes what it sees, and he has a chance to make a big impression at his pro day.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 86
Current Grade: Round 4
With the growing prevalence of teams using three-man defensive fronts, at least situationally, in the National Football League, nose tackle is a very important position. In a weak class of nose tackles, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste ranks second among players truly fit to play the position in a 3-4 defense, which could lead him to rise well up the draft board.
The top nose tackle in the draft class, Memphis’s Dontari Poe, had a tremendous showing at the combine, which has caused him to rise from a second-round draft value to a likely top-15 selection. With Poe likely to be off the board early, other teams in search for a nose tackle will be looking for a sleeper, and Jean-Baptiste could be their guy.
Jean-Baptiste was snubbed by the combine, but he is an explosive 335-pound nose tackle who took over the role played by 2011 first-round pick Phil Taylor at Baylor and played it very well. Jean-Baptiste is a raw talent, but he has the potential to be developed into a starting-caliber nose tackle.
With a strong showing at Baylor’s pro day on March 21, Jean-Baptiste could work his way up into Round 2 or 3, as he looks to establish himself ahead of BYU’s Hebron Fangupo and Washington’s Alameda Ta’amu as the second-best 3-4 nose tackle in this draft class.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 50
Current Grade: Round 3
Quietly, Boise State’s Shea McClellin had a terrific performance at the combine. He ran a 4.63-second 40-yard dash, the sixth-fastest among all defensive linemen and linebackers at the combine. He also performed very well in the on-field drills, showing his fluid athletic ability.
All year, I have been comparing McClellin to Brooks Reed, a talented 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker who was selected No. 42 overall by the Houston Texans in the 2011 draft. McClellin has not received anywhere near the attention that Reed got, but he could very well be worth a second-round pick and make a similar impact as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
McClellin has never received the attention he deserves, continuing to be overlooked, but he will have one more chance to stand out at Boise State’s pro day on March 22. If he does so and starts receiving the attention he deserves, he could end up as an early second-round pick, although his value currently dictates that he should be a late second-round draft choice.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 21
Current Grade: Round 1 or 2
Current Mock Draft Position: No. 16 to New York Jets
Alshon Jeffery came into the year as a top-five prospect for the 2012 draft class, but his stock has dropped after a disappointing junior season. That said, one factor in Jeffery’s perceived stock falling league-wide is the concern over his speed.
Jeffery did not run or participate in any on-field drills at the combine, but if Jeffery runs a faster 40 time than expected (sub-4.5) and has an impressive day catching the football at South Carolina’s pro day on March 28, he could begin drawing consideration as a top-10 draft selection once again.
With many wide receivers on the rise, Jeffery runs the risk of being lost in the shuffle, but if he stands out at his pro day, he can set himself apart as the No. 2 receiver in the draft class ahead of everyone not named Justin Blackmon.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 57
Current Grade: Round 3
Current Mock Draft Position: No. 6 to Washington Redskins
In my 2012 NFL Mock Draft 3.0, Tannehill is projected to be the sixth overall selection by the Washington Redskins. This is his maximum for how high he could be drafted, but remember that that is simply a projection of what I expect the Redskins to do at that pick, not where his value actually lies.
Tannehill’s true value lies as a second- or third-round draft selection, and if the Redskins do not make the mistake of overdrafting out of necessity of a quarterback, he could easily slide out of the first round and into the second.
That said, with the lack of a third first-round-caliber quarterback prospect after Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Tannehill does have a chance to establish himself as a first-round draft pick, Redskins or not, if he has a terrific throwing workout at the Texas A&M pro day today (March 7). Because of the need and importance of the quarterback position, potential franchise quarterbacks are always valued higher.
Unlike Luck and RG3, Tannehill did not do much at the collegiate level that impresses me enough to even feel confident he is a starting-caliber quarterback at the next level. He does appear to be the quarterback that scouts think most highly of after the two elite signal-caller prospects, leaving the door open for his stock to really rise, especially on the boards of teams that need a quarterback, by impressing at his pro day.
Overall Prospect Rank: No. 135
Current Grade: Round 5
No player has more to gain at his pro day than Brock Osweiler does on Arizona State’s event on March 16.
Osweiler started out well last season, leading the Sun Devils to wins in five of their first six games on some very good passing performances. However, as the Sun Devils went on to lose five of their last six and then their bowl game, Osweiler’s play really suffered down the stretch. His completion percentages dropped to lower than 64 percent in each of his final five games, and he threw five combined interceptions in his final three games.
That said, Osweiler has huge upside. At 6'7" with a strong arm, Osweiler has the potential to be a big-play quarterback at the next level. He is a very good athlete for his size as well, but he must improve with his accuracy, decision-making and ability to make difficult throws.
Osweiler is a raw talent who stands as a fifth-round value, but at the quarterback position, where teams will be searching for a potential starting quarterback, Osweiler could end up going as high as the second round, or possibly even sneak into the first round, if he has a great throwing workout at his pro day.
While my grade for him will go nowhere near that high, he has the potential that will catch the eyes of NFL scouts, and if he stands out in his pro day workout, he has the measurables that could lure a team into overdrafting him.
As we saw in the 2011 NFL draft with the unexpected draft-day rise of Florida State’s Christian Ponder, the importance of the quarterback position can lead teams to overdraft out of necessity, and with Luck and Griffin all but certain to be the top two picks in the draft, another quarterback has to rise and draw interest from teams not in the RG3 sweepstakes. My prediction is that Osweiler will have a great throwing workout at his pro day and end up being the guy getting the buzz in the upcoming weeks.
Thanks for reading!
For more coverage of the 2012 NFL draft, follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope.