Draft season is a four-month journey for NFL prospects and evaluators, who can have a major impact on where a player lands on draft day. While in-season film evaluation is always the preferred means when assessing prospects, the postseason evaluation process is critical for NFL teams as they decide which of the 500-plus players they studied throughout the year are worthy draft picks.
While it’s only February, a handful of players have already improved their value to NFL teams, with others added concerns to their scouting reports. A lot is still to be determined for draft boards, and we’ll have the next three months to continue evaluations for potential draft picks. But, as of today, here are the players who have risen or fallen in the early stages of the draft process.
Known to be a talented blocker at Colorado State, Crockett Gillmore got the opportunity to impress during Shrine Game practices to build on his impressive senior season. However, it was the following week during Senior Bowl practices and in the game that he vaulted from a late-round option to a potential mid-rounder with situational-starter upside.
Gillmore is best as a blocker, thanks to his length, strength away from his frame and body control working down the field, but during the Senior Bowl, he proved to be a sufficient pass-catcher, catching the first touchdown of the game. In an NFL that values versatile tight ends, Gillmore likely found himself an NFL home based on his play in Mobile, Alabama.
Entering the week of the Senior Bowl, Cyril Richardson was on track to be one of the first interior linemen taken in the 2014 draft and potentially wind up as a first-rounder. A mauling run blocker with plus hand strength and power initially, Richardson appeared to have “NFL starter” written all over him.
However, he was exposed in Mobile, repeatedly getting beaten by quick, NFL-level speed-rushers on the interior (especially Aaron Donald). He proved to be consistently outmatched in pass-protection drills and has since fallen to a potential Day 3 pick.
Invited to both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, Jimmy Garoppolo made the most of his “get to know me” tour, removing some of the concerns that small-school players tend to acquire on their scouting reports. With two weeks in front of NFL scouts, he emerged as one of the best passers in this class, making professional-caliber throws while playing with and against NFL-level competition.
His footwork and overall technique need a lot of work, but his release quickness impressed in a live setting, his arm strength proved more than adequate and he displayed NFL-quality decision-making and anticipation. He’s not first-round worthy, but he has NFL tools with which to work.
Entering the 2013 college football season with early-round hype and excitement about his tremendous arm strength, Miami quarterback Stephen Morris failed to make the necessary steps as a passer to emerge as a legitimate top-100 prospect.
During Senior Bowl practices, he displayed his wildly inaccurate passing skills and tendencies as a gunslinger, which pushed him down even further (and potentially off) NFL draft boards. While the chance of a late-round selection still exists, he certainly won’t be viewed as anything more than a project pick, with a live arm and a lot of development needed.
Underappreciated during the in-season scouting process, it took a highly impressive Senior Bowl week for Jimmie Ward to emerge as a true contender to be a top safety prospect in the 2014 draft class. With experience at most spots in the defensive backfield in college, the Northern Illinois product's rise on draft boards is due to his versatility.
Most evaluators in attendance at the Senior Bowl will likely agree that Ward was the top safety prospect during the week of practices. He also was arguably the top cornerback prospect, having success working in the slot and outside in press and showing controlled steps in his short-area zone coverage. As a best fit in the NFL in a strong safety and nickelback role to start, Ward is a legitimate first-round option.
Unfortunately for Aaron Colvin, being a “faller” on this list has nothing to do with his performance on the field. During Senior Bowl practices, he suffered an ACL injury that forced him out for the remainder of practices and likely will keep him off the field until early in his rookie season in the NFL.
One of the better cornerback prospects in this class thanks to his length and fluidity vertically, Colvin is now a mid-to-late rounder for most teams. He’ll likely be a great value for a savvy team that is OK with little to no expectations for Colvin as a rookie, but he’ll face an uphill battle to start his NFL dream.
Despite winning every major defensive award in college football this season, Aaron Donald ended his college career with doubts in the minds of NFL teams about whether he is worth a first-round pick. Since he lacks ideal height and length, teams likely wondered if he could consistently get penetration against NFL-level offensive linemen.
During the week of the Senior Bowl, he answered those questions.
With near-elite quickness off the snap, low pad level throughout his rush and active hands initially to disengage, Donald had success against every offensive line he faced during Senior Bowl practices and on game day. While his lack of ideal size may be a cause for concern for some defensive line coaches, anyone who saw him perform live knows that he can produce against NFL offensive linemen.
Adrian Hubbard was a surprise early entry to the 2014 class, not displaying nearly enough polish to warrant a high pick for NFL teams. He got the opportunity to play in the Senior Bowl thanks to graduating in the fall semester of his fourth year at Alabama, but his performance in Mobile only opened more concerns about his NFL future.
Simply put, he doesn’t appear to have an NFL position. With impressive size and length, he looks like he could be a 4-3 defensive end, but he doesn’t have the bend or natural pass-rushing ability to fit there. He played linebacker in college but lacks the ability to sink and change direction at a high enough level to be a factor in run support or as an edge-rusher.
He has great talent and athleticism for a player of his size, but without an NFL position, he’ll prove to be a hard sell for scouts to make to general managers before the fifth round.
The defensive leader on the SEC champion Auburn Tigers, Dee Ford left college as an intriguing speed-rusher with top-100 dreams. Staying in-state to partake at the Senior Bowl, he has risen to a legitimate first-round option and a potential top-20 overall selection.
In practices, he maximized his speed off the edge, consistently beating offensive tackles around the outside and then utilizing a devastating inside spin move when he set up his potential blocker during drills. On game day, Ford finished with two sacks on Logan Thomas and won defensive player of the game honors.
After an impressive week in Mobile, Ford is a first-round option for any team that is looking for an edge speed-rusher.
In a near-opposite situation to Dee Ford, scouts had high expectations for Telvin Smith once he arrived at the Senior Bowl. After an impressive season as one of the leaders on the Florida State defense in his first year, he arrived as potentially the best linebacker prospect in attendance. However, concerns about him started before he put the pads on, as he weighed in less than 220 pounds, which immediately sparked questions about his NFL position.
Smith wasn’t terrible during the week of practice, but he did little to impress in pass coverage or team drills. His best fit might be in a Kam Chancellor-type role as a strong safety in the NFL. But despite his possible fit at safety, a potential position change for a prospect generally spells bad news for his value on draft day.