Whose Stock Is Soaring Heading into the NFL Draft?

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVApril 18, 2013

Whose Stock Is Soaring Heading into the NFL Draft?

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    The 2013 NFL draft is but a few short days away, so now is the last chance players have to convince teams they are worth a valuable draft pick.

    Though most—if not all—teams' draft boards aren't likely to change much between now and the draft, in the eyes of the observers, stocks continue to rise and fall.

    Here are 10 players whose draft stocks appear to be headed upward as we inch toward Thursday's first round.

G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

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    This is a great draft class for offensive linemen, particularly guards, so it makes sense that North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper seemed to initially be lost in the shuffle as draft season began.

    Now that we're a week or less away from the draft, Cooper's getting increasingly more attention, to the point that he's being considered by some—such as WalterFootball.com—as this year's top guard.

    It's not just the fact that Cooper can play center that could see him jump other top guards Chance Warmack and Larry Warford. Cooper is also extremely athletic, so any team that requires a pulling guard to make their run game work will find him to be a perfect fit. 

    Cooper isn't just fast and athletic, though, he's also strong. He possesses every ideal quality of a starting-caliber guard, so it's not surprising that we're hearing his name more often now that the draft is just around the corner. 

DE Tank Carradine, Florida State

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    Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine's ACL tear kept him out of both the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine, which temporarily pushed him out of the dominant draft discussion.

    However, with the draft now approaching and Carradine continuing to rehab his injury, he's slowly but surely creeping up into the first round in many analysts' minds. Todd McShay of ESPN (subscription required) recently had him going 30th overall to the Atlanta Falcons.

    Carradine went from a situational player in 2011, who had 38 tackles and 5.5 sacks, to a 2012 starter with 80 tackles and 11 sacks. If he recovers completely from his injury and avoids any setbacks, he should be ready to start for any team that needs a solid pass-rusher, especially in a 4-3 defense.

    While the injury hurt Carradine's stock initially, his overwhelming talent appears to have trumped it. Now, it will be more surprising if Carradine doesn't get selected in the first round than if he does.  

RB Johnathan Franklin, UCLA

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    UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin's draft stock has been steadily climbing since the scouting combine, to the point that he may be the second or third running back taken in this year's draft. 

    Franklin isn't the fastest prospect in the draft, though he doesn't lack speed. What makes Franklin stand out among the other backs in the class is his versatility. He's quick and elusive but also quite powerful, making him an ideal every-down back for teams lacking a featured rusher.

    Most importantly, however, is not that Franklin is just a willing blocker—he's also a proven one, especially when it comes to picking up the blitz. Having a rookie running back capable of blitz pickups and other protection assignments means he'll take less time to develop and can thus contribute immediately. 

    Franklin had 1,734 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in 2012, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He also caught 33 passes for 323 yards and two more scores. Anything a team asks Franklin to do, he can do, so it makes sense why his name is quickly rising above the likes of Montee Ball and even Giovani Bernard. 

S D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina

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    We all know that Texas' Kenny Vaccaro is the draft's top safety, but behind him is a great deal of depth at the position, which has allowed for a lot of stock to shift in the weeks and days leading up to the draft.

    South Carolina's D.J. Swearinger is one who has benefited from this near-constant movement.

    It's possible that Swearinger is the second or third safety off the board this year, meaning he should be taken by the middle of the second round. He's fast but also hard-hitting, though not to the concerning degree that some have seen in fellow safety prospect Matt Elam of Florida. 

    Swearinger had 79 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and seven passes broken up in his 2012 season—numbers that are hard to ignore. He plays the position with authority but not recklessness, which gives him considerable upside.  

OLB Arthur Brown, Kansas State

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    If there's one name that has gained the most momentum in the final weeks leading up to the NFL draft, it's Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown.

    Draft insider Tony Pauline lists Brown as one of the fastest risers among linebackers this year, and if you've been following the draft even casually, you can likely attest to this. In early March, there was nary a buzz about Brown. Now that we're well into April, however, you cannot look at one in-depth examination of the draft without seeing his name come up.

    Brown had 100 tackles, two interceptions, four passes defensed and a sack in 2012. His size is a bit of a concern—he may not be able to play inside in the NFL—but his inherent talent and instincts could see him play well on the outside in either a 4-3 or 3-4.

    In a very short span, Brown has gone from a second- or third-rounder to a nearly guaranteed first-round pick.

WR Ryan Swope, Texas A&M

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    Slot receivers don't typically get a lot of draft love, especially ones who have had previous issues with dropping passes.

    Ryan Swope of Texas A&M, however, is different.

    Swope is incredibly fast, which is certainly an asset for a slot receiver, but he's also football smart. This will probably translate into him being a quick learner of whatever offense he's asked to play. The issue with drops can be corrected, but football smarts cannot be taught. His intangibles have seen his stock rise from a third- or fourth-rounder to the second round.

    Swope had 72 receptions for 913 yards and eight touchdowns. Working out of the slot in the NFL, he could easily replicate that production in his rookie year.  

QB E.J. Manuel, Florida State

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    The quarterbacks in this year's draft class certainly don't appear, at least on the surface, to possess the talents of last year's passers. As a result, we've seen each and every quarterback in the 2013 class dissected to bits while evaluators try to figure out who—if any—could end up being a franchise player for the team that takes him.

    Though West Virginia's Geno Smith has yet to be unseated as the draft's top quarterback prospect, Florida State's E.J. Manuel has been creeping up behind him. Once considered a mid-round pick, it will now be shocking if Manuel makes it out of the second round without a team to call his home.

    While Manuel's Florida State offense was a bit more rudimentary than those run by other prospects in this year's draft, his arm strength, mobility and excellent work ethic make up for any development he may need to become an instant or eventual starter (depending on who drafts him).

    Manuel had 3,397 passing yards in 2012, and 23 passing touchdowns to 10 interceptions. He also had four rushing scores, which is again another testament to his overall athleticism. The fact that he has his mind ready for the NFL and no character issues to speak of also has helped his stock to dramatically rise. 

DE/OLB Cornelius Washington, Georgia

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    The main reason why Georgia defensive end/outside linebacker Cornelius Washington hasn't seen a great deal of pre-draft attention can be attributed to fellow Georgia pass-rusher Jarvis Jones hogging much of the spotlight. 

    Though Washington isn't as explosive or dangerous as Jones, and notched just half a sack in 2012, that doesn't mean his draft stock should dip. Without Jones in Georgia's front seven, Washington would have likely had a better year—he had five sacks in 2011, for example.

    Washington has great size and speed that shined through at the scouting combine. It makes him a versatile linebacking prospect, as he projects to be more than capable of playing 4-3 defensive end and switching between inside and outside linebacker positions in a 3-4.

    This could therefore bump Washington from the fourth round to the second this year.  

WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee

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    Like Cornelius Washington and Jarvis Jones, Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter has been outshined in the months leading up to the draft by teammate Cordarrelle Patterson, who is considered the best receiver in this class. The fact that Hunter tore his ACL in the third game of the 2011 season didn't initially help his draft stock, either.

    In 2012, Hunter caught 73 passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns—solid numbers for a player coming off such a severe injury. Without the ACL tear, he would have likely been a beast in 2012. After all, in two of the three games he played in 2011, he caught a total of 16 passes for 302 yards and two scores. 

    Hunter is regaining the blazing speed with which he had made his name, and his 6'4" height only makes him that much more of an enticing prospect. Though the majority of the draft's better receivers project to go in the second round, Hunter could ultimately become a first-round pick or, barring that, the earliest receiver to go in Round 2.  

CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU

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    Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu's off-field issues have been widely documented over the past 12 months. From Heisman Trophy finalist to multiple arrestee who was subsequently kicked off the team, there may be no prospect in this year's draft to have so many red flags encircling his name.

    However, despite all those red flags—including a USA Today report that said he had failed at least 10 drug tests at LSU—Mathieu has seen his stock continuously rise since the scouting combine. He showed considerable skill in Indianapolis during position drills and when running the 40-yard dash, and he likely turned more than a few scouts and coaching staffs in his favor during one-on-one interviews.

    Typically, a player with Mathieu's background would be considered undraftable. However, his apparent full commitment to change combined with the fact that he was rightfully considered a Heisman-caliber player has him projected to be selected in the third round. It's also possible that a team so enamored with him may choose to take him even earlier if they can afford it.

    Mathieu still has a lot to prove—namely, that his checkered past is well behind him—but the fact that he's going to be off the board well before the final rounds of the draft seems to indicate that his potential rewards outweigh any risks.