The variety of pro days in college football yield a wealth of news and overreaction. A single day of workouts can seem to dwarf full seasons of in-game results. Much like the scouting combine, pro days are just another pothole in the long road to the NFL draft.
The really big shakeups in the pecking order occur on draft day itself, and these five players have the manifest talent to put them near the top of the draft, but the lack of consensus on their quality make them wild cards who could drastically shake up the order whether they are selected or they slide.
Derek Carr, Quarterback, Fresno State
Derek Carr is the best QB not being considered for the first overall pick. Alabama's AJ McCarron is another sleeping giant at the position, and both are projected to go somewhere in the second round. Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo joins them on the second tier of QBs.
There is also the scenario where the consensus top three under center—Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater—fly off the board in the first few picks. In that case, Carr could go from being in play at No. 26 for the Cleveland Browns to being a potential top-10 pick at a position that looks increasingly fluid.
Say the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders each want a QB and the top three are gone after the fifth overall pick. In that case, the Minnesota Vikings at No. 8 could very well spring for the best field general left in the pool.
Carr has a big arm to sling it all over the field, but the Bulldogs did not exactly run a pro-style offense. He could need some seasoning in the NFL before jumping into a starting role, but his raw ability gives him legitimate potential to be a solid starter in the pros.
Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback, Michigan State
Despite a mediocre combine Darqueze Dennard remains the best corner in the draft. His 4.51 time in the 40-yard dash didn't knock any socks off, but he was not far off Oklahoma State product Justin Gilbert's sparkling time of 4.37 seconds.
Judging from the run on defensive backs in free agency, an increasing number of teams recognize that in today's NFL it is crucial to stockpile top-level talent in the secondary. Dennard's stock has varied from from warranting a top-10 selection to the 20s in the estimation of ESPN's Mel Kiper (subscription required). He would look pretty in black and yellow for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have the 15th pick.
As NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told MSUSpartans.com, Dennard's time in the 40 should not scare off teams in need of his legit talent: "He's a prototype press corner, but when push comes to shove and he's got to make a play and be physical, he does it, and to me that separates him from most of the corners in the draft."
Speed is important, but possessing the physical nature for the position is paramount.
Kyle Van Noy, Outside Linebacker, BYU
After UCLA's Anthony Barr and Buffalo's Khalil Mack, Ryan Shazier from Ohio State is Van Noy's chief competition at OLB. However, Shazier is somewhat undersized and Van Noy is coming off a strong showing at the Senior Bowl.
Senior Bowl executive director and former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage had high praise for Van Noy, via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com:
Kyle was the most complete outside linebacker on the North and South rosters because of his combination of athleticism in space, his ability to stack the run at the point-of-attack and his overall pass-rushing skills. He can play on or off the line of scrimmage and appeared equally secure in defending the run or pass. In reality, he is versatile enough to fit the 3-4 or 4-3 systems and play in Sub as a rusher or coverage defender. Kyle should become a starter early on and enjoy a productive NFL career.
He's not on the level of Barr or Mack, but that pair could be gone in the first dozen picks. When the next wave of linebackers start disappearing off the board, it will likely be a trend leading from the selection of Van Noy.
Hasean Clinton-Dix, Safety, Alabama
As one of the top defenders on the marauding Alabama defense, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will get consideration in the top half of the first round. He's got competition from Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, and either one could go first at the position.
The Lions have expressed interest, and the 'Bama sensation saw fit to draw a comparison to another highly drafted safety who came before him. As Clinton-Dix told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "I watched Mark Barron do it a couple years ago, when he went 7, so it's been done. If they want to take me at 10, I'm looking forward to it and I would love to be in Detroit."
NFLDraftScout's Rob Rang pointed out some of the downside to Clinton-Dix, and that could send him plummeting to the end of the first round with Pryor leapfrogging him as well:
Clinton-Dix isn't without red-flags, however. He flashes rather than dominates and wasn't as athletic during combine drills as expected. It is also worth noting how few of Alabama's highly-regarded defensive backs have lived up to their draft status since leaving Nick Saban's tutelage.
As with Dennard, Clinton-Dix mans an increasingly important position in the pass-wacky NFL, so reaching for a player with his potential is justified. However, with the wealth of talent keeping the first round so stacked, it could cause him to fall far past Detroit at No. 10.
Jace Amaro, Tight End, Texas Tech
North Carolina's Eric Ebron and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins join Jace Amaro as the top three prospects for the new in-vogue position in the NFL. All three TEs have a unique blend of size and strength that could make each a dynamic downfield threat at the next level.
Ebron will probably come off the board sometime around the teens and almost certainly in the top 25. Where Seferian-Jenkins and Amaro land could serve as a bellwether for future pass-catching TEs. The Jets and Ravens could each use a player of Amaro's caliber, and one of them would be wise to take Ebron as the first TE if he's still there.
Amaro's place is more uncertain, and if Ebron comes off the board earlier it could send teams in need of a big-bodied receiver scrambling for other options. As more offenses search for dynamism at TE, players in the mold of Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron, who were fourth-rounders in 2011, could suddenly find themselves in the top 32 overall.
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