As this month's 2012 NFL Draft draws near and college pro days around the nation wrap up, the draft day picture is beginning to come into focus. While some collegiate standouts have seen their draft stock take a tumble, others are climbing up draft boards by the day.
Each year, the first round of the draft contains a few surprises, as players that not many expected hear their names called on the draft's first day.
Here's a look at this year's leading candidates to crash the party on April 26th.
Amini Silatolu, OT/OG, Midwestern State
Offensive lineman Amini Silatolu may have toiled in relative obscurity during his career at tiny Midwestern State, but the 6'4", 311-pound small-school star has certainly made a big impression on Sports Illustrated's Tony Pauline, who was very impressed with Silatolu's recent pro day.
Silatolu stood on most of his numbers from Indianapolis, though his 32-inch vertical jump and 9-foot, 3-inch broad jump represented slight improvements. Coaches on hand then put Silatolu through 40 minutes of position work and came away impressed the way the 314-blocker moved around the field. The feeling from most is that the offensive lineman has locked himself in as a top 45 pick.
Not only is Silatolu likely locked into the top 45, but it's very possible that a team like the Baltimore Ravens, who have a need at the guard position and a history of drafting interior linemen early, may take a long look at Silatolu towards the end of the first round.
Mychal Kendricks, OLB, Cal
University of California linebacker Mychal Kendricks was the Pac-12 defensive player of the year after a senior season in which the 5'11", 239 pounder racked up 105 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions.
As Russ Lande of the Sporting News reports, Kendricks' stock has been on the rise since his outstanding showing at February's combine.
Kendricks is faster and has a better closing burst than many NFL linebackers. He is always the first defender moving toward the ball and has sideline range against the run. As a result, he can chase plays down in pursuit.
An ability to maintain good pad level helps Kendricks play stronger at the point of attack. His quickness and agility usually enable him to slip and avoid blockers within the box. When he can't avoid blockers, Kendricks shows quick and strong hands to shock the defender, and stay free to make the tackle.
There are several teams, such as the New England Patriots, that pick towards the back of the first round and could use an upgrade at outside linebacker. It's very possible that Kendricks' versatility will motivate one of those teams to make a play for him in the first round.
Doug Martin, RB, Boise State
Running back Doug Martin enjoyed a very productive collegiate career at Boise State, gaining over 1,500 total yards each of the past two seasons. As Rob Rang of CBS Sports recently pointed out, solid outings at the Senior Bowl and NFL combine have the 5'9" 223-pound bell cow climbing up the draft boards of several teams.
Writes Rang: "Martin is a natural runner, demonstrating the vision, lateral agility, balance and burst to be a feature back in the NFL."
Martin isn't exceptionally talented in any one aspect of the game, but is more than capable in all of them, and with Brandon Jacobs now in San Francisco and Andre Brown facing suspension, the New York Giants may look to address their hole at running back by selecting Martin with the final pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
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