2012 NFL Draft: Whose Stock Is Rising in Latest Mock Drafts?
What is fascinating about the path to the NFL draft is that prospects are not just performing to build their reputation, but to ensure a profitable future.
While a fan or scout will interpret a 40-yard dash time in a matter of seconds, the player sees it in dollar signs: The faster he runs the more money he gets.
Some athletes cannot handle the grueling process while others are able to reconfirm what scouts already know.
The most intriguing prospects are the few who overachieve throughout the pre-draft months. These are the players motivated by the mighty dollar, the ones who realize their future is dependent on their ability to showcase their full potential.
The following prospects will be receiving fat paychecks in the future thanks to their better-than-expected performances during the pre-draft events.
Round 1: Buffalo Bills, Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State, DL)
Before the NFL combine, Fletcher Cox's name was lost among the many talented defensive linemen in this year's draft.
That should have changed after he ran a 4.79-second 40-yard dash and exploded through the on-field drills at the NFL combine, but his performance was overshadowed by the 6'4", 346-pound Dontari Poe (Memphis, DT).
However, after his solid pro day performance on March 8, there is no denying his potential. Cox has proved in his pre-draft workouts that he has the burst and power necessary to be picked early in the first round.
While he still is not getting the publicity he deserves, Cox has the attention of NFL teams. He was a borderline first-round pick following the 2011 season, but has now cemented himself as an early first-rounder.
He will be selected by the Buffalo Bills with the 10th overall pick. With Cox and Marcell Dareus up front, the Bills' defensive line will be set for years. Quarterbacks beware.
Round 1: Cleveland Browns, Stephen Hill (Georgia Tech, WR)
Stephen Hill was essentially an unknown name coming out of college. In three seasons he only had 49 catches for the Yellow Jackets.
Due to his obscurity, the 6'4", 215-pounder was perceived to be a mid-round draft pick at best. That changed after his combine performance where he blew scouts away with a 4.36-second 40-yard dash. He then backed that up with a solid pro day where he looked good running variety of routes.
He does not have the same type of resume as Kendall Wright or Mohamed Sanu, but his size/speed ratio makes him a tantalizing prospect that a team will surely take a chance on in the first round.
That team will be the Cleveland Browns, who will select him with the 22nd pick.
Hill will spread the field and win the 50-50 jump balls. He can contribute immediately in the Browns' offense and has the potential to put up record-setting numbers his rookie season if his skills live up to his pre-draft hype.
Round 2: Indianapolis Colts, Coby Fleener (Stanford, TE)
Following the 2011 season, Coby Fleener was considered the third best tight end in this year's draft behind Dwayne Allen and Orson Charles.
You would think his stock is falling due to an ankle injury that has kept him off his feet since the end of the 2011 season, but that is not the case. Instead, he finds himself in position to be the first tight end off the board.
Allen's stock fell after he ran a 4.89-second 40-yard dash at the combine. His decision not to run the 40 at his pro day suggests he does not think he can improve his time. This brings to question whether or not he has the speed to break away from defenses.
Then there is Charles, whose stock is plummeting after he managed to get arrested for a DUI earlier this month.
If healthy enough, Fleener expects to run between a 4.5- and 4.6-second 40-yard dash on his pro day (March 22), which will ensure e is the first tight end off the boards.
After picking Andrew Luck in the first round, the Indianapolis Colts will select Fleener with the 34th pick in the draft. Fleener can take the place of the recently released Dallas Clark right away. The chemistry he developed with Luck during their Stanford days will translate nicely in the red zone, where Fleener will emerge as the go-to target.
Round 2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mychal Kendricks (Cal, LB)
When the linebackers took the field at the NFL combine, all the talk was about Zach Brown and how he was going to blow scouts away with his 40-yard dash time.
Instead, it was the seldom mentioned Mychal Kendricks who raised eyebrows with a 4.47-second sprint (.03 seconds faster than Brown).
Not only that, but he was a top finisher in four out of the five events he participated in.
His performance has scouts reanalyzing game film and realizing his potential. While a little raw, the Cal Bear has the ability to make plays all over the field. He has the speed to cover running backs and the strength to neutralize bigger offensive linemen.
Kendrick's combine performance (along with the self-destruction of Vontaze Burfict) has him shooting up draft boards. Instead of being selected in the third or fourth round as was expected, he will be go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 36th overall selection.
Kendricks has a nose for the ball and a knack for the big play. His versatility will allow him to be the every-down linebacker the Buccaneers desperately need.
Round 2: Kansas City Chiefs, Chris Polk (Washington, RB)
Chris Polk showed up to the Senior Bowl heavier and slower than NFL scouts hoped.
He lost 13 pounds before the NFL combine and ran an acceptable 4.57-second 40-yard dash, but mock drafters still had him pegged as a borderline second-rounder at best.
Polk is difficult to analyze because the he looks like an explosive back on game film but was unable to prove it.
Heading into his pro day, Polk needed to show some speed in order to save his draft stock. Fortunately, he did just that. The Washington Husky ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash on March 8 to cement himself as one of the best running backs in this year's draft.
At 5'11" and 212 pounds, Polk has the potential to be a premier every-down back. He is a natural catching balls out of the backfield and possesses the ability to either power over or scoot around defenders.
If Kansas City cannot find a running back in free agency, it will select Polk with the 44th overall pick. The Chiefs need an all-purpose back who can complement Jamaal Charles in the backfield. Polk can step into the rotation immediately and make sure Charles has fresh legs come playoff time.
Round 2: Chicago Bears, LaMichael James (Oregon, RB)
During his three seasons with the Oregon Ducks, LaMichael James gained the reputation as one of the most exciting running backs in the league. It seemed as though every week there were multiple highlights of him outrunning defenses for 70- or 80-yard touchdown runs.
Despite his home-run ability, he was labelled as a third-rounder because of his small stature (5'8," 194 pounds).
James impressed at the combine running a 4.45-second 40-yard dash and looking comfortable in all the on-field drills. What was particularly encouraging was his precise route-running and soft hands.
James will be picked by the Chicago Bears with the 50th selection of the draft to complement Matt Forte.
He is projected to be a scat-back similar to Darren Sproles, though he is a much better runner up the middle than he is given credit for.
The Bears offense will benefit from having a speedster who can spit out of the trenches, spin around the linebackers and burst past defensive backs en route to a touchdown.