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NFL Draft 2014: Identifying Soaring Prospects Poised to Rise into 1st Round

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NFL Draft 2014: Identifying Soaring Prospects Poised to Rise into 1st Round
Nam Y. Huh

The 2014 NFL draft is going to be here in the blink of an eye, but many general managers, scouts, fans and analysts are all still making plenty of adjustments to their big boards.

The pre-draft process can be a fickle one, with prospects rising and falling like the tides based on whims, thoughts, rumors, hearsay and much more. However, there are also more concrete factors like combine performances, pro day showings, interviews, team visits and more that can make or break a player’s stock.

Let’s take a look at a couple of prospects that have been surging up the big board over the past few weeks and appear to be on the verge of becoming first-round picks May 8.

 

Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Derek Carr may not have the same hype surrounding him that Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles currently do, but the Fresno State signal-caller is quietly having a great lead-up to the draft.

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Carr certainly did not rest on his laurels after finishing a prolific collegiate career with an amazing 5,082-yard, 50-touchdown, eight-interception campaign. He trained hard for the combine and wowed scouts with his top-tier athleticism at the position.

The Bulldogs quarterback finished inside the top five at his position in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and 20-yard shuttle while adding a top-10 showing in the broad jump.

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller was a bit stunned by his 40-yard dash time, which officially became 4.69 seconds:

Carr parlayed those combine successes into a strong showing at his pro day a few weeks later, proving to scouts that he could make a number of difficult throws. He connected on 56 of 63 passes, with every incompletion coming on either a deep ball or drop.

Perhaps most impressive of all, Carr’s pro day heroics came while he was battling an illness that required an IV to replenish his fluids in the morning, as per Rob Rang of CBS Sports.

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick had high praise for the 23-year-old’s ability to run a pro-style offense, despite playing the past two years in a spread system, as per ESPN’s Ashley Fox:

When you see him now in that type of system when he went to the Senior Bowl, during the practices, during the week, during the game, during his pro day, he was very comfortable with the footwork, timing, mechanics, accuracy that he's going to need at the NFL level. There are some people that are very, very, very impressed by what they think his skills are relative to an NFL projection.

Because of the lack of any true superstars at the quarterback position in this year’s class, it is definitely easy to imagine a scenario in which a team falls in love with Carr’s skill set and uses its top selection to acquire him.

The Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings are all potential landing destinations for this young star, and he could end up being remembered as the steal of this draft.

 

Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana

USA TODAY Sports

Cody Latimer is rapidly becoming one of the hottest prospects in the class. His meteoric rise may just end up with his name being called during the first round of the draft.

The Hoosiers star wasn’t anywhere to be found on most mock drafts just a few short weeks ago, but he’s starting to make more appearances within the first 32 picks in many analysts’ hypothetical scenarios.

ESPN draft guru Toddy McShay (subscription required) is extremely high on Latimer right now and has him coming off the board at No. 23 to the Kansas City Chiefs in his latest 4.0 mock:

This is the big surprise pick of the first round. He might not go off the board quite this early, but I was blown away by his game when I finally got to study his tape recently. He does a great job of getting off the press, has extremely reliable hands and is a threat after the catch -- three things that make him a perfect fit for a West Coast-style offense. He is dealing with a foot injury but his healing is ahead of schedule, and he recently ran in the 4.4-range at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds.

Miller noted just how busy a man Latimer is these days: 

The seemingly sudden interest in Latimer is a product of his pro day back on March 26. It was on campus in Bloomington that many scouts first received a glimpse at the athletic capabilities of this 6’3”, 215-pound stud.

NFL.com’s Gil Brandt described the impressive, albeit limited, nature of the Indiana product’s pro day and combine outings:

Due to a broken bone in his foot, Latimer was only able to run straight ahead and did not participate in any positional drills. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 and 4.45 seconds. He also had a 39-inch vertical jump. Latimer was at the NFL Scouting Combine, but only competed in the bench press (in which he led his position group with 23 reps of 225 pounds).

It’s worth noting that Latimer’s official 40-yard dash clocked in at 4.38 seconds (per Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star) and came just two months after he underwent surgery on his foot:

NFL scouts and general managers have to be salivating at the idea of adding a healthy Latimer into the fold. Unfortunately, the big wideout is no longer a well-kept secret that only a few knew about, but rather an open commodity. That might just be enough to raise his stock into first-round territory.

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