The Hottest Draft Prospects Heading into Month of April
As the calendar turns to April, we enter the stretch run of NFL draft season.
Grades on most prospects have been set for weeks, but a few prospects are still generating some last-minute buzz.
Due to recoveries from injuries, surprising offseason workouts, positive interviews and a variety of other reasons, these prospects have built up some positive momentum heading into the home stretch.
Most of these prospects aren't first-round locks, but they all have the momentum to potentially come off the board higher than we would have predicted at season's end.
EJ Manuel, Florida State
The buzz surrounding EJ Manuel has gradually built throughout the offseason, and he may now be on the verge of sneaking in the late first round.
In his latest mock draft (Insider content), ESPN's Todd McShay gave Manuel to the Philadelphia Eagles at pick No. 35.
While Manuel has some obvious flaws in his game—most notably his accuracy on deep routes—his stock has been elevated by his ability to run the read-option.
Among quarterbacks, only Geno Smith posted a faster time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
In addition to the Eagles, Manuel has also scheduled visits with the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars, who may be interested in his services in the second round as well.
D.J. Hayden, Houston
D.J. Hayden didn't receive much attention during the season, but over the past few months, he has gained a number of fans in the scouting community.
Hayden recently showed off his speed at Houston's pro day, running a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash.
ESPN's Kevin Weidl is among those supporting Hayden, and he views him as a future starter:
Houston CB DJ Hayden is one the best kept secrets in this draft. Unable to workout b4 draft but he's a playmaker that will end up starting.— Kevin Weidl (@KevinW_ESPN) March 15, 2013
This is an exceptionally deep class for cornerbacks in the second and third round, so it's difficult to project exactly where Hayden will land, but it has become clear that he is a top-100 prospect.
Tank Carradine, Florida State
Few players enter the draft with more concerns than Tank Carradine.
After transferring from junior college, Carradine didn't enter the Florida State starting lineup until midway through his senior year when Brandon Jenkins went down with an injury.
Then his season ended with a torn ACL, raising doubts about his ability to work out for scouts.
But according to CBS' Dane Brugler, Carradine expects to be healthy in time for a last-minute workout:
With a strong workout, Carradine could solidify his spot in the first round.
Justin Pugh, Syracuse
As a four-year starter at left tackle at Syracuse, Justin Pugh didn't receive much national attention.
He lacks the athleticism or size to excel in that role in the NFL, but scouts are excited about his potential as an interior lineman.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah is among those who think Pugh projects as a future starter if he's shifted inside to guard:
Justin Pugh (Syracuse OT) should be a 1st rd pick. His name is buzzing in personnel circles. I think he's a better version of Andy Levitre.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 15, 2013
Todd McShay also placed Pugh in the first round of his most recent mock draft (Insider content).
Tavon Austin, West Virginia
There doesn't seem to be a consensus No. 1 wide receiver in this year's draft class.
Cordarrelle Patterson and Keenan Allen may be more traditional first-round receiver prospects, but Tavon Austin is gaining momentum as a potential top-20 selection.
Austin is undersized, but his speed is what sets him apart.
The recent success of Percy Harvin likely gives Austin's draft stock an added boost.
Like Harvin, Austin is a versatile playmaker. He can line up in the slot, outside or even in the backfield.
Weapons such as Austin are hard to find, and it could potentially land him in the upper half of the first round.
Aaron Dobson, Marshall
Aaron Dobson isn't going to sneak in the first round like some of the other prospects on this list, but he has generated some momentum as an intriguing third- or fourth-round sleeper.
Dobson is a reliable possession receiver and received some positive hype courtesy of John Pollard of STATS earlier this week.
Pollard's list of draft prospects with the lowest drop percentage placed Dobson as the very top with zero drops in 92 targets:
Back on the grid. Top prospect WRs ranked by best (lowest) Drop %. Min 40 Pass Targets in 2012. twitter.com/JPSTATS/status…— JohnPollard (@JPSTATS) March 29, 2013
Cornelius Washington, Georgia
Cornelius Washington saw significant playing time throughout his career at Georgia, but he never settled into a full-time role in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's 3-4 defense.
Despite his limited production in college, Washington has put together an impressive offseason and has seen his stock trend upward since a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.
Washington is now considered a solid day-two prospect, and he could sneak into the second round.
In my latest mock draft, I gave Washington the Houston Texans with the 57th selection.
Christine Michael, Texas A&M
There may not be a more talented running back in this year's class than Christine Michael.
If not for clashing with head coach Kevin Sumlin, which led to a reduced role in 2012, Michael may be considered a first-round lock. But those questions do linger, which will cause him to slip.
Michael may not fall far, however, and Mike Mayock of the NFL Network is among those who believe Michael is a lock to come off the board on the second day of the draft.
According to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling, Mayock recent stated that Michael won't get out of the second round:
Mayock on Path to Draft: Texas A&M's Christine Michael is as talented as any RB in the draft; boom-or-bust unlikely to get out of 2nd round.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) March 9, 2013
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
For the past year, it's been nothing but bad news for Tyrann Mathieu. But his momentum may be starting to shift.
At least 14 teams have already scheduled pre-draft visits with Mathieu, demonstrating that there is an obvious interest in the troubled former LSU cornerback.
While Mathieu still has to say all the right things in order to win over these teams, publicly he seems to be doing just that.
Mathieu has taken an honest and open approach to dealing with his past troubles. Historically, teams are willing to forgive and forget when a player with Mathieu's talent takes that approach.