The 2014 NFL draft is just over three weeks away, making this the perfect opportunity to highlight some prospects who have been steadily rising up the big boards.
Every year, at least a few players seem to come from nowhere at the start of the pre-draft process to become first-round picks on draft day.
That is bound to happen again in 2014, so let's take a look at a few players who were relatively unheralded but are now on the verge of becoming top-32 selections.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Latimer is arguably experiencing the most noticeable post-combine ascent up the big boards. The Indiana wideout was only able to bench press in Indianapolis in late February, but he has been putting on a clinic now that his foot injury has healed enough to allow him to run.
The Hoosiers star has first-round talent but was largely unmentioned by draft experts just a few short weeks ago. However, Latimer just appeared in ESPN draft guru Todd McShay’s latest mock draft (subscription required), going No. 23 overall to the Kansas City Chiefs, and he is certain to show up in more mocks leading up to May 8.
McShay noted that the decision to put Latimer there would be perceived as somewhat of a shock, but he defended his choice:
[Latimer] 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.
According to Zach Osterman of The Indianapolis Star, that 40-yard dash time was actually below 4.4 seconds and officially clocked in at 4.38 seconds:
Cody Latimer's official 40-yard dash time today: 4.38 seconds. #iufb— ZachOsterman (@ZachOsterman) March 26, 2014
Latimer led all receivers at the combine with 23 reps on the bench press, so it is easy to see why this young man is being hailed as the most athletic receiver in a loaded class.
General managers and scouts are clamoring to get a closer look at Latimer now that his incredible pro day workout is in the books. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller noted that the 21-year-old has at least seven visits scheduled ahead of the April 27 deadline for franchises to meet with players:
I'm told Cody Latimer has seven more visits lined up. There's been heavy interest so teams are coming to him before Apr. 27 deadline.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 11, 2014
Latimer is 6’3” and 215 pounds, and he is coming off a 72-catch, 1,096-yard, nine-touchdown junior season. There is no reason to doubt Latimer’s ability to make a significant impact at the next level. Don’t be surprised to see him come off the board in the first round and making plays on Sunday in the near future.
Projection: No. 29 Overall to New England Patriots
Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Carr is another prospect who is benefiting from a solid offseason of workouts, drills and interviews.
The Fresno State signal-caller hasn’t been mentioned in the same breath as Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater, but he may end up coming off the board before some of those top-flight quarterback prospects.
Carr has a few distinct advantages, including the proven ability to run a pro-style offense. He ran one with the Bulldogs during the 2011 campaign, showing a lot of poise as a young thrower in a complicated system.
Is Carr a first-round talent?
The Bakersfield, Calif., native completed 279 of 446 passes for 3,544 yards and 26 touchdowns that season. While those numbers are a far cry from the 453 of 659 passes he completed for 5,082 yards and 50 touchdowns n his senior year, they augment the work he has put in at the Senior Bowl and help paint a clearer picture of his skills.
ESPN analyst Louis Riddick spoke to ESPN.com’s Ashley Fox about Carr’s ability to quarterback a pro-style offense and what it means going forward:
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.
Carr wasn’t shabby at the combine either, finishing near the top of his position in 40-yard dash time, vertical jump height, broad jump distance and 20-yard shuttle time.
Miller was especially impressed by how quickly Carr ran the 40-yard dash:
Surprised by the 4.68 for Derek Carr. Knew he was a good athlete, but that's impressive speed.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 23, 2014
With his athleticism, cannon arm and poise, there isn’t much to dislike about Carr’s ability to make an impact at the next level. The 6’3”, 214-pound signal-caller has some flaws, but none are glaring enough to scare away potential first-round suitors.
Projection: No. 8 Overall to Minnesota Vikings