NFL Draft

NFL Draft 2014: Prospects Gaining Momentum Ahead of the Scouting Combine

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 16:  Defensive back Alden Darby #4 of the Arizona State Sun Devils celebrates a defensive stand against the Oregon State Beavers during the fourth quarter of their college football game at Sun Devil Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Ralph Freso/Getty Images
Patrick ClarkeCorrespondent IJanuary 22, 2014

The 2014 NFL draft is less than four months away, but there's still a lot that can change between now and then in terms of prospects' stock.

The Senior Bowl, scouting combine and pro days can all influence where and when a player comes off the board. And with one of the marquee pre-draft events in the East-West Shrine Game already in the books, several underrated players have seen their stock rise. 

Below I'll highlight a trio of 2014 NFL draft prospects who are gaining momentum ahead of February's scouting combine.  

 

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

Dec 13, 2013; Charleston, IL, USA; Eastern Illinois Panthers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws the ball during the fourth quarter against the Towson Tigers at O'Brien Field. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports
Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Eastern Illinois signal-caller Jimmy Garoppolo delivered a strong performance in the 2014 East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 18, completing nine of 14 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. While there was a lot to like, Garoppolo's decision-making skills and big arm stood out the most.

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah watched Garoppolo at the East-West Shrine Game and had tons of praise for the promising passer:

Garoppolo stood out as the best player during the week of practice and he put together a strong performance during the game on Saturday. He showed very quick feet in his setup, a lightning-quick release and accuracy to all three levels. I was very impressed with the command and poise he displayed in the pocket. He has built up a lot of momentum heading into the Reese's Senior Bowl.

On top of his impressive outing in St. Petersburg, Fla., Garoppolo led all FCS passers in 2013, throwing for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns in 14 games.

If he can continue to showcase his strong arm, accuracy and poise in the pocket moving forward, Garoppolo has the potential to become a second-round pick given the limited number of elite quarterback prospects available in 2014. 

 

Ethan Westbrooks, DE, West Texas A&M

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Ethan Westbrooks was one Division II player to make a name for himself at the East-West Shrine Game this January. Westbrooks was impressive in practice all week leading up to the game and finished with a bang, earning defensive MVP honors.

Afterward, Westbrooks was full of confidence, per the Amarillo Globe-News' Jacob Mayer:

This was a great way to end my college career. It was a great week on and off the field. I always thought I could play at this level, and playing against guys on the same level or better than you always brings out the best.

Westbrooks displayed tremendous pass-rushing ability in his breakthrough performance and likely won over a few NFL scouts in the process. 

It's unlikely that his most recent appearance on the gridiron will propel him into the early rounds. However, there's no denying that the 6'4", 275-pound pass-rusher has boosted his stock and turned himself into a legitimate value pick in the draft's later stages. 

 

Alden Darby, S, Arizona State

Nov 23, 2013; Pasadena, CA, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils safety Alden Darby (4) intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for UCLA Bruins wide receiver Thomas Duarte (18) during second half action at Rose Bowl.  Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TO
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

Arizona State safety Alden Darby may be flying under the radar as a projected late-round pick this coming spring, but his eye-opening performance in the East-West Shrine Game has certainly boosted his stock ahead of February's scouting combine.

Darby recorded two interceptions for the West squad, showcasing his immense cover and ball skills.

Keep in mind that Darby picked off 10 passes over his final three seasons with the Sun Devils, returning two for touchdowns.

Although his size (5'11", 190 pounds) is sure to create doubt among NFL scouts, Darby's combination of coverage skills and instincts makes him a worthwhile addition in May's draft and a player sure to become a steal for some lucky franchise.

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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