NFL Draft 2014: Recent Risers Headed for Day 1 Selection

Dan Tylicki@DanTylickiAnalyst ISeptember 29, 2013

COLLEGE STATION, TX - SEPTEMBER 14:  Mike Evans #13 of Texas A&M Aggies reacts to a play in the fourth quarter during the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Kyle Field on September 14, 2013 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The 2014 NFL draft, like any other draft, is not set in stone. A prospect can be a No. 1 pick one week only to find themselves out of first-round discussion after a few poor weeks of play.

Conversely, underclassmen or under-the-radar players from small schools can showcase themselves on the national stage more prominently than ever, leading to rapidly rising draft stocks.

Some draft rankings can change drastically over the course of a season. For example, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger has been touted as an early-round prospect after his game against Georgia and his rapid improvement this season.

In the case of quarterbacks, they can be a hot commodity one week and out of the spotlight the next. Those who consider Mettenberger a first-round talent this week could completely disappear should be have a bad performance next week.

Most positions are less dynamic than quarterback, however, and simply proving yourself week after week will put yourself on the radar of NFL scouts. Which players have done that over the past couple weeks in particular?

Texas A&M has not lost a step since last season, and all eyes have been on Johnny Manziel, both on and off the field. Scouts already know what he can and can't do, and there's another player on the roster who has looked better from week to week.

Wide receiver Mike Evans is only a sophomore, yet has become a nightmare for opposing coaches to figure out. He not only has good speed, but at 6'5" he is among the tallest prospects available at the position, and he has the ability as well.

He had 1,105 yards his freshman year and already has 691 yards and five touchdowns through five games this season, with his 279-yard effort against Alabama being of particular note.

Unless he utterly regresses during the second half of the season, he will not only be considered a first-round talent, but could go as far as to supplant Marqise Lee and Sammy Watkins and become the top receiver drafted.

Melvin Gordon had made most opposing defenses look downright foolish in his short career thus far.
Melvin Gordon had made most opposing defenses look downright foolish in his short career thus far.Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Mike Evans is not the only sophomore to disrupt the draft projections early on. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon has looked great even in comparison to many of the high-performance backs that the Badgers have had in recent years.

It's unlikely, at least at this point, that a running back will go in the first round due to the way the game is changing and the position not being as important. If someone can power through and be that pick, however, it's Gordon.

He averaged 10 yards a carry in 2012, and through five games this season, and has 698 yards on only 68 attempts. Wisconsin's past matchup against Ohio State was the first time he was kept under wraps, rushing for only 74 yards on 15 carries before leaving with a leg injury.

Despite having one game where he did not put up video game numbers, Gordon still looked the part of an NFL running back even against the Buckeyes' defense. It's too early to tell if he'll declare, but if he does, he could find himself in the first round.

When it comes to tight ends, teams are looking more and more for an athletic "joker" tight end, someone who has size while also being able to break away from defenders with speed. The joker tight end in this year's class who is quickly rising is North Carolina's Eric Ebron.

Ebron has been a go-to target for quarterback Bryn Renner, and despite the Tar Heels' lack of success so far this season (1-3), Ebron has garnered the attention of scouts.

His performances this season include a 108-yard receiving effort in a loss to Georgia Tech; afterward he was noted alongside top tight end prospect Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington as one of the top tight ends in the country.

More importantly, his skill set is one that teams looks at more and more for tight ends: an athlete who can make plays in the open field, which Ebron has not had difficulty doing.

While Zach Mettenberger may be someone to watch a couple months from now as an early draft possibility, there is one LSU Tiger who has already made waves and established himself as an early draft prospect, and that is junior defensive tackle Anthony Johnson.

ATHENS, GA - SEPTEMBER 28: Anthony Johnson #90 of the LSU Tigers runs with an interception against the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium on September 28, 2013 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Unlike the others on this list, which I have gradually grown to like over the course of the season, Johnson made his mark on me quickly with his interception of Aaron Murray against Georgia.

One interception alone does not make a first-round draft pick, of course, and as a defensive tackle, he value is a lot harder to figure out from stats, since tackles don't generally amass large numbers in any category.

What stands out with Johnson is not only his physicality, but how polished he seems on the defensive line. He is able to stop a run or rush the passer and make changes when needed. In a draft without much at that position outside of Notre Dame's Louis Nix III, Johnson should not have much trouble continuing his rise up the draft boards, especially if LSU continues to stay near the top of the rankings.

These four players have gotten their names out there in different ways and have had to take different roads. Yet one thing is certain—they should have little trouble playing on Sunday this time next year should they declare for the draft.