One of the toughest things to predict in any NFL draft is exactly how high some of the late-rising prospects will climb. They often serve as the turning points in the round, because if they jump higher than expected, it can shake up the entire round.
Teams must ultimately decide whether the late hype is accurate based production at the college level. Front offices are always looking for the most value, which gives the rising prospects a little extra intrigue, but risk certainly exists if they get taken too early.
Knowing that, let's examine three players who fall into the rising group and what their outlook is at the NFL level. Following the breakdown, there's a prediction for where each of the talented prospects will get drafted.
As teams seek out athletic tight ends to round out their offensive attack by creating more advantages over the middle, prospects like Ebron have become more attractive. He's capable of stretching the field with very good speed for the position, but he has the size to post up defenders in the red zone as well.
The North Carolina product could also become the latest tight end who splits out wide in certain formations, providing more flexibility to an offense. Teddy Mitrosilis of Fox Sports asked him about being a full-time wideout, and Ebron says it would be possible, but tight end is a better option:
But [tight end] is the right fit, because I can be a difference-maker in the middle of the field. I have more room to operate. I demand better matchups or mismatches in the middle of the field. I can cause defenses to worry and can cause coaches to switch up their gameplans. I cause distractions.
While there are multiple teams, ranging from just inside the top 10 through the end of the opening round, that could use a tight end, the New York Giants seem like the best fit. The offense is coming off a down season, and giving Eli Manning a more reliable target over the middle could help get things back on track.
Prediction: Giants at No. 12
Donald doesn't have the size of a typical run-stuffing defensive tackle. Instead, he relies on his athleticism and quickness to beat opposing linemen at the point of attack. He was a constant presence in the backfield at the college level. A strong performance at the combine caused his stock to jump.
Which of these prospects will have the best rookie season?
The factor that will likely determine exactly how high Donald goes in the first round is whether teams believe he can be a dominant force. He's a proven playmaker, but making a consistent impact at the next level is a tougher task for smaller players, who can get overpowered.
It's a concern that probably limits his upside to around the middle of Round 1. That's perfectly fine with the Dallas Cowboys, who need more talent along the defensive line. That's a good bet for where Donald will land, and he shouldn't slip beyond the Arizona Cardinals at No. 20.
Prediction: Cowboys at No. 16
Cooks falls into the same category as Donald. He's an undersized wide receiver who has shown he can make big plays and possesses plenty of upside, but he probably won't challenge the top players at the position for draft position because he checks in under six feet.
Yet when you pair the fact that he had 128 catches with Oregon State last season with a terrific combine showing, there's a lot to like. Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network likens him to T.Y. Hilton of the Indianapolis Colts:
I'm watching more Brandin Cooks tape tonight. I see a lot of T.Y. Hilton in his game. Sudden release, has another gear, very tough.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) March 7, 2014
All things considered, Cooks would be an ideal fit for the New Orleans Saints. He's a prospect the Saints can move around their high-powered offense to get him the ball in space and let his lightning speed take care of the rest.
Prediction: Saints at No. 27