Which Prospects Are Benefiting Most from Extended 2014 Draft Process?

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2014

Which Prospects Are Benefiting Most from Extended 2014 Draft Process?

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    Keith Srakocic

    The NFL draft was pushed back a few weeks this season. What was normally a late-April event has turned into a mid-May affair, allowing for a few more weeks of draft analysis to transpire as a result.

    The more time we have ahead of the draft, the more there is to dissect prospects. In many cases, prospects have been torn down and built back up multiple times.

    Other prospects have benefited from a long draft process. Some have steadily risen for months, the extra few weeks a chance to continue rising. Others have been shunted into the spotlight over the past couple of weeks, when the draft should have transpired.

    Who are some of the incoming rookies who have benefited from the extended draft process? Click through to find out.

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

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    Three months ago, Aaron Donald was an undersized defensive tackle with first-round potential. Now, he is likely the first defensive tackle to be taken in the draft.

    It's surreal seeing all this praise of Aaron Donald considering how widely he was written off a year ago.

    — Chris Kouffman (@ckparrot) April 25, 2014

    Donald dominated the combine, posting the fifth-best 40-yard-dash time for a defensive lineman at 4.68 seconds and the second-most 225-pound bench-press repetitions with 35. He also owned the fourth-best three-cone-drill time at 7.11 seconds.

    His athletic dominance strapped a rocket to his draft stock, and it has been a slow burn upward since then for the talented defensive tackle. The more time before the draft the better for Donald, at least in the draft community, where he is firmly in the top 15 at this point.

Joel Bitonio, OL, Nevada

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    Cathleen Allison

    Joel Bitonio is, perhaps, the biggest riser in the draft along the offensive line, at least in the early rounds.

    The Nevada product has been rising slowly but steadily ever since the Senior Bowl, where a solid week caught draft analysts' attention. A solid combine continued his momentum, which has reached the point where he is consistently being mocked into the first round.

    I wouldn't be shocked if Nevada OT/OG Joel Bitonio landed in the bottom of the 1st rd.

    — Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 9, 2014

    That includes the two most recent mock drafts by yours truly, where Bitonio even cracked the top 25. A few more weeks of draft season might see Bitonio crack the top 10 at this rate.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M

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    It's not as if Mike Evans was overlooked or undervalued before the draft process started. After all, he has been the consensus No. 2 receiver in a loaded draft class. But the lengthy process has allowed Evans to slowly rise to the point where he is seriously challenging Sammy Watkins for top honors. 

    Both very good. I think Evans will be better longer. RT @LiamInDC: You foresee Mike Evans having more successful career than Sammy Watkins?

    — Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) April 27, 2014

    I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Evans goes before Sammy Watkins. Thinking about representing that in my next mock draft.

    — Eli Nachmany (@PFF_EliNachmany) April 28, 2014

    Had the draft been held in January, Evans would have been lumped with the rest of the pack at receiver, Watkins easily beating him out. In a couple of weeks, Evans may have overtaken Watkins for the top spot at wide receiver among draft analysts.

    Who knows if the same can be said for teams around the league.

Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

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    Names such as Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett and Bradley Roby have dominated the cornerback position for much of draft season. Lately, however, there is one cornerback who is giving them a run for their money.

    He has caught many a draft analyst's second look, not the least of which is Bleacher Report's Matt Miller in a recent scouting notebook:

    Kyle Fuller continues to rise on my boardall the way to a final spot inside the top 20. Having prototypical size (6'0", 190 lbs), speed and instincts helped his final argument, and there's no way I could keep him in the second round.

    Now that he's healthy, Fuller has all the tools to be a starter from the minute he's drafted. And unlike some corners in this draft, he can line up on the edge and defend top-tier wide receivers.

    Miller has moved Fuller all the way up to No. 18 on his big board after starting draft season with him out of the first round altogether.

Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh

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    Keith Srakocic

    The draft cycle can get punchy. How else can we explain why this is happening? 

    The stunner this draft season is a quarterback who threw 83 passes as a Rutgers sophomore in 2010, then didn't play college football in 2011 or 2012 as he transferred from Rutgers to Arizona to Pitt. 'The hottest guy in the draft,' Brandt of Tom Savage. How hot is he? Late last week Savage's agent, Neil Schwartz, had to tell two teams who wanted to set up a visit or meeting with the quarterback that he didn't have any time left to do so. 'There are literally no days left on his calendar for him to go see any other teams,' Schwartz said Saturday.

    The deadline for teams to host players or work them out is April 27, and by then Savage is scheduled to have either worked out for or had visits with 24 or 25 teams. That's an amazing number of workouts and/or meetings ... and when I say meetings with teams, I mean time with either the GM, coach, offensive coordinator or two or three of those.

    All that hullabaloo about Pittsburgh's Tom Savage from The MMQB's Peter King. 

    Savage is so popular that he was invited to the opening night of the NFL draft, an invitation he turned down.

    Draft surprises are nothing new, but from no-name prospect behind at least a dozen guys at his position to potential first-rounder in a matter of weeks? If Tom Savage gets taken in the first round or anywhere near it, he has the extended draft season to thank, in part.

    All combine results courtesy of NFL.com.